Friday, November 9, 2018

Veterans Day: Honoring Those Who Serve

Note: This reflection was originally published at

In anticipation of Veterans Day, a student friar who spent 12 years in the military reflects on the importance of the holiday and of recognizing men and women who have served in the armed forces.

Each year on Nov. 11, our nation honors the men and women who served in our armed forces. This tradition dates back to Nov. 11, 1918, the final day of World War I. In 1918, this day was referred to as Armistice Day, as the word “armistice” is an agreement made by opposing sides in a war. It wasn’t until 1954 that the Nov. 11 holiday was referred to by its current name, Veterans Day.

Perhaps you are asking yourself who these “veterans” are and why we honor them each year. According to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. This population includes all the men and women who served in the military at one time or another. This is a striking number, given that the population of the United States is approximately 323 million people. These statistics show that veterans make up nearly seven percent of the entire U.S. population. Most likely you know someone or many friends or family members who are veterans. My experience is that most veterans who are on active duty or previously served go about their lives with quiet professionalism. One might never be aware of the responsibility to service that veterans display.

Now, onto the second part of the question: why do we honor these men and women each year? From 2003 to 2015, I served in the United States Navy alongside some of these men and women. I consider it a great honor to have worked with individuals who selflessly dedicated their lives to a central mission.

I saw people make great sacrifices; whether it was having to leave loved ones behind during extended deployments or standing watch through the middle of the night, these veterans have gone to great lengths to protect and defend the rights of this great nation. And veterans are not just the ones who we read about going to war and into battles. Many veterans serve or have served in roles that may primarily have included hours and days of tedious training to be prepared should some action be required of them.

I want to share briefly the lives of two individuals who have strongly influenced me during my time in the military. These men are Lt. Brendan Looney, USN, and Capt. Owen Thorp, USNR. Unfortunately, both of these men have passed on to eternal life, however, during their life here on earth, they both had a strong impact on many people. Lt. Looney was a fellow lacrosse player at the United States Naval Academy and went on to become a Navy Seal. His genuine spirit of kindness along with his commitment and perseverance always stood out to me.

Capt. Thorp was a kind, compassionate leader who strongly valued his faith. As a submariner, I don’t believe he ever had to serve in any hostile combat. However, as a long-serving engineering instructor at the academy he used his strong Catholic faith and belief in the development of young leaders to provide immeasurable care, counsel, and encouragement to many midshipmen he met while serving there. On one occasion, he mentioned to me that he thought I might have a vocation to religious life. While I distinctly remember wrestling with this idea, it turns out that he had some wisdom there.

You all probably know some veterans as either family or friends. Let us remember all of those individuals even the ones we don’t know on this Veterans Day in gratitude for their selfless service.

Peace & all good.  I wish you a happy Veterans Day!

Friar Steve Kuehn is a member of the Holy Name Province. A 2003 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he grew up in Annapolis, Md., where the academy is located. He is the youngest of four children. His father, Leo Kuehn, was a Commander in the Navy and served in aviation as a naval flight officer onboard P-3C aircraft.  Steve now lives at St. Joseph’s Friary in Chicago and studies theology at Catholic Theological Union.

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Diaconate Ordination: Behind the Scenes

It was 4 o’clock in the morning. I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep. It was the day of my diaconate ordination. In about 6 hours the bishop would be laying his hands on me, invoking the Holy Spirit to empower me to assume this ministry that has existed since the time of the apostles. Although I had been a Franciscan friar for almost 10 years by this time, and had professed my solemn vows two years prior, I was still filled with trepidation. The clerical status (that of priests and deacons) is such a highly visible, public ministry in the Catholic church. I wasn’t sure I could take on that tremendous responsibility. I doubted my worthiness of such an important, holy office.

I tried watching something on TV. It did little to ease my anxiety, so I decided to walk out of the house. There was a meditation chapel next to the friary on the grounds of the Franciscan Renewal Center. I was starting to walk over there when I noticed a cozy, peaceful-looking ramada. The sky was softly lit up by the early light of dawn. Beautiful desert vegetation surrounded the ramada. The birds were chirping. The early fall air felt cool on my skin. I had always prayed better when i was out in nature. I made a turn and started walking toward the ramada.

I sat there in quiet for awhile, taking in all the beauty around me. Then I started saying my prayer. I could only mutter one sentence, over and over again: “I’m scared, Lord.” Plus the sobbing. For the last few days I had been so busy preparing for the ordination. I also had to introduce myself to the community, which meant lots of smiling and shaking hands. Little did I know that I had been suppressing all the nervousness, anxiety, and other unpleasant emotion. It was only then that I could open the flood gate and let all the raw emotion come out.

Then the sun started to appear in the horizon. I could feel its warmth on my face. I paused my lamentation. Suddenly I remembered one of my favorite songs, Rawn Harbor’s rendition of Psalm 27: The Lord is My Light and My Salvation. Finding a new strength, I started walking back to the house. There, I pulled out my Bluetooth speaker, searched for the song on my phone, and played it in full volume. I jumped in the shower and sang along. The belting out of the cantor, along with fresh, warm water, gave me a bit of energy.

After I got dressed, I went out go get coffee. A friend of mine sent me a Starbucks gift card with a generous amount of credits. I decided to finally give Pumpkin Spice Latte, that great American fall tradition, a try. I splurged and ordered a grande. Then I sat there for awhile and did more reflection. I looked back at my past life, of all the things that had been helpful to my vocation, and some that had served more as a distraction. When I checked my watch, it was time to get back.

Around 9 AM, I walked into the church. The choir was practicing and the sacristans were preparing the space. A couple of guests who had come early greeted me. I still had a little anxiety and didn’t feel like greeting a lot of people. So I went into hiding in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. It also always felt cooler there than in the church. I knew I was going to sweat a lot. I naturally do anyway, but this time it was further exacerbated by my nervousness. I thought sitting there would calm and cool me down.

That sense of calm and cool didn’t last very long. I had to go back to the seemingly warm church. The bishop was already there, so my anxiety went up. Then it was time to line up for the entrance procession. In my nervousness I neglected to say hi to my brother friars who had come to support me and were lining up in front of me. I only remembered making a special request if one of them, who had been a good friend to me, could sit next to me during mass. Maybe he could catch me if I fainted.

Somebody gave us the sign to start the procession. I forced my legs to move. As I stepped into the worship space, the choir was still singing the prelude. It was Chris Muglia’s “You Are Welcome Here.” 

Come all you wounded and weary
Come all you heavy of heart
Come with your fear and your burden
Come with your pain and your scars

You are welcome here, come as you are
You are welcome here with open arms
Bring your burdens, bring your pain
Bring your sorrow and shame
You are welcome here, come as you are.

I choked back my tears. I looked away from the assembly in an attempt to hide them. I cried because at that moment I really felt embraced lovingly by God. It was as if the words of that song were directed specifically to me. I was the one with the heavy heart. I was the one filled with fear, sorrow and shame. How could a man like me be a deacon of Christ? Yet God was saying to me, through the community in their song: “Come as you are!”

I wiped my tears and turned my head back toward the assembly. My heart, my steps felt lighter. I found it easier to crack a smile. The rest of the mass seemed like a breeze, despite problems with the AC and trying to keep my stole in place. As I laid prostrate during the Litany of Saints, I tried to imagine all the saints mentioned surrounding me, especially Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI who had just been canonized a week earlier. But somehow it also came to my mind all the migrants that had died on our southern border. I vividly remembered a photo of  one of them, a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador named Josseline. I also remembered Richard Purcell, a friar who helped me a lot during formation and died not long after I finished novitiate. Again, I felt a little strengthened knowing that all these people, on earth and in heaven, were supporting me.

Some of my old friends from my years with the Indonesian Catholic young adult group in Los Angeles traveled the long distance to be with me. Their presence reminded me of what prompted me to walk this path into priesthood for the first time. It was the time I had spent with them, praying, singing, sharing our faith, feasting, serving, and laughing that inspired me to want to dedicate all my life to the Church. We can barely call ourselves young adults now. Some of them even have already had kids.

A couple of days later I finally had time to open all the congratulatory cards. One of them had a piece of paper attached. On it was something scribbled by one of my friends' kids. My friend told me that on that long road trip from California, his kid had been busy flipping through the pages of his Bible, trying to find something to write for me. My tears began to flow as I was reading it. It was the perfect prayer for what I experienced that morning of my ordination. Through a 7-year-old, I was reminded that God had been with me throughout that very special day, and all my journey that got me this far.

Friar Sam Nasada joined the friars in 2009, professed solemn vows in 2016, and received his Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in 2017. He was ordained to the diaconate in October 2018 and currently serves at the Franciscan Renewal Center, Scottsdale, AZ.

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Friar Antonio Luevano Reflects on His Discernment and Formation

Friar Antonio Luevano hails from Rancho Cucamonga, California. Prior to joining the Franciscans, he worked for the Diocese of San Bernardino. He currently resides at Old Mission San Luis Rey, Oceanside, CA to complete his theology studies at the Franciscan School of Theology ( 

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422

A Desert Experience: A Reflection by Friar Andrew Dinegar

From June 18, 2018 – July 8, 2018, I visited Santa Barbara’s Ite Nuntiate Franciscan Intentional Community, located in Elfrida, Arizona.  Elfrida is a very small town, with a population of about 460 people.  Elfrida is located 25 miles north of Douglas, Arizona; Douglas is a border town.
The Ite Nuntiate Community was started by Friar David Buer, OFM., in September, 2017.  Currently, two other friars live in Community with Brother David. They are Friar Sam Nasada, OFM and Friar Luis Runde, OFM from the Sacred Heart Province.

On June 18, 2018, Brother Sam and I visited Ajo, Arizona, for two days, staying with his friends, the Weyers, who are involved with the Ajo Samaritans, a group of religious and lay volunteers, who serve in desert ministry, which involves groups of folks who drive deep into the Sonoran desert, walking the migrant trails, carrying gallons of drinking water, snacks and other supplies, and placing them along the routes where the migrants could find these life-saving items as they cross the unforgiving desert.

On the morning of June 19th, Brother Sam and I woke early. Along with Sister Judy Bourg, School Sister of Notre Dame, and John Heid, a local volunteer, we started out on a journey which took us 14 miles in to the desert on a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and then walked another mile along a migrant trail to place our supplies.  John and Sister Judy are very knowledgeable with the local desert migrant trails.

Ajo Samaritans is an offshoot of Tucson Samaritans (, a humanitarian aid organization founded in 2002.  It is a mission of Southside Presbyterian Church and seeks to help prevent deaths and suffering along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Samaritans are made up of volunteers who drop off food and water in various locations in the Sonoran Desert. They come from various faith traditions or none at all.  Using two donated four-wheel-drive vehicles, they carry water, food, emergency medical supplies, communication equipment and maps out to the desert daily to help save the lives of people who are crossing the landscape.

The four of us came upon a few empty water bottles (gallon-sized) and a hoodie sweatshirt, items which had been discarded by migrants walking the trail.  I had been thinking of that old adage, “If these walls could talk….” Well, I used that adage in context of, “If these items could talk;” “If these desert floors and trees could talk.”  What would they say?  What would they speak to me?

Ending migrant deaths and related suffering on the U.S.-Mexico border is also a mission of the non-profit organization Colibri Center for Human Rights (  From January to June 20, 2018, the number of migrant deaths (recovered remains) in Pima County stood at 56. According to Border Patrol statistics, more than 7,200 have died trying to cross the U.S. southern border. But it is believed that the actual number is even higher. Colibri is working in partnership with the Pima County Medical Examiner and the families of those missing by comparing information about missing individuals and those who died and were recovered in the desert. Colibri’s mission includes finding the missing and identifying the dead.  Over the last 12 years, the ministry had collected nearly 3,000 detailed reports of missing persons who had disappeared in the desert.

On Tuesday evenings, in Douglas, a group of religious and volunteers gather at a local McDonald’s restaurant, approximately 3 blocks from the US-Mexico border crossing to remember our brothers and sisters who tried to cross and lost their lives in the desert. During the weekly vigil in Douglas, Arizona, participants hold up crosses bearing the names of those who died while trying to cross the border into the United States. The vigil serves to remember all the migrants who have died in Cochise county. We each read the name on the cross out loud, held it up, and laid the cross on the side of the road leading to the border crossing.  It started as a response from the Douglas faith communities to the finding of 6 dead migrants who were trapped in a sewer ditch during a heavy rain. When most people in our country ignore this atrocity or put the blame on migrants, these few people in Douglas make sure that all brothers and sisters of ours in God are not forgotten.

Another ministry which we had visited, in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta, south of Douglas, was C.A.M.E. (Centro de Atencional Migrante "Exodus"). Here I learned more about the brutal and life-threatening journey that migrants must endure. Hundreds die annually in the inhospitable desert.  Most of these are slow, agonizing deaths of thirst and heat exhaustion.   
Most would-be crossers travel from southern Mexico and even as far away as Central and South America.  Statistically, for every 1 who makes it, 2 do not.  Many are abused and robbed by their “Polleros” or “Coyotes” (people they pay to lead them to cross the border).  Others are blocked at the border and tumble back into Agua Prieta, or are apprehended by the U.S. border patrol and deported.  The majority of them are left far from home, penniless, demoralized and often injured or ill.                 
For this reason, the C.A.M.E. Migrant Center was established in 2007.  This is a short-stay center where migrants receive a meal and a place to rest.  They are provided information on where they can receive medical assistance.  The shelter is a free, safe place where people can spend the night, connect with their families, wait for additional funds to return home and receive basic humanitarian care. The center does not receive government aid but operates on donations from organizations such as Rancho Feliz, churches and other relief groups in the area.

One day Brothers Sam and David, a group of young women from CalState East Bay campus ministry, and I visited an immigration trial in the Federal Courthouse in Tucson. In what is named "Operation Streamline", the detainees filed into the room seven by seven for a dose of rapid-fire justice. In less than a minute and in quick succession, each migrant pleaded guilty to illegally entering the United States and was sentenced. If applicable, the clients could apply for asylum. They were overwhelmingly Central American and Mexican men, many of which were still in the dusty, sweaty garb they had been wearing when they were caught by Border Patrol agents. They looked dazed, tired and resigned to their fate, many having just completed a harsh trek across the sweltering desert. Some of their heads drooped as they listened to the judge.

Within my 3-week visit with my brother Franciscans, I and other volunteers, visited the migrant trails in the desert 3 times. Each trip was different.  We drove many miles into the desert on each occasion, and walked up 1 mile, if not more, to get to our ‘destinations,’ where we repeated the same processes of placing supplies for our brothers and sisters who will pass through these routes. The desert is not a joke.  Extreme temperatures, dry heat, views that have no end in sight (the desert floor and sky go on for miles!). It’s foreboding and not kind to people who enter into it.

When I say, “enter into it,” I mean more than just walking through the desert, physically.  I also mean emotionally and spiritually.  The desert takes you out of yourself.  In my case, the desert was challenging me.  It made me stop and take a look at my life and place it into the context of our brothers and sisters who risk their lives to leave their personal hell and try to live a better one, at any cost. And not only our brothers and sisters in this desert, but in all the ‘deserts’ throughout our world.  The deserts of poverty, loneliness, abandonment, addictions and abuses, worldliness, pride, and the list goes on and on…

My ‘cost’ was being stripped down to my core, my soul, to taking a look at my life and the gifts and graces which God had given me and continues to try to give me (if only I would stay open to Him).  All the things that I had, many of which those who are crossing the border don’t have.  I looked deep inside myself as I looked deeply around the desert, and saw a comparison:  my emptiness, my shallowness, my false self.  I had many opportunities and offerings in my life, many of which I had not taken, for whatever reasons, and many I had taken…for granted, and not put to good use. There are people out there in the world, who would jump at the offerings that I have had, if they could.
During each of my 3 visits to the desert, the desert had held me hostage, with (literally and figuratively) nowhere to run or hide.  I was as exposed to myself as I was to the elements, and I had nowhere, nothing to do, to turn to, except to go interiorly, and visit with God and try to find myself and live the life for which I was created.

Friar Andrew Dinegar is originally from Brooklyn, NY. He currently is a novice with the Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate in Santa Barbara, California.

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave.
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422