On July 5, Bishop Charles McDonnell and I had the sad task of attending the funeral of US Army Sgt. First Class Gladimir Philippe. For those of you who didn’t see the news reports, Sergeant Philippe was one of two American soldiers kidnapped and killed in Iraq at the end of June. The funeral was held at St. Joseph the Carpenter in Roselle, where the Philippe family and many of the Haitian community of this Archdiocese have their spiritual roots. Fr. George Gillen, the pastor, and current and former priests of the parish concelebrated the funeral Mass.
Gladimir Philippe was the first serviceman from our Archdiocese to die in this most recent conflict. Throughout the buildup to war and the campaign itself, I had prayed, as so many of you have, that everyone in our archdiocesan family “over there” would be spared the ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, that was not to be. I continue to pray that Gladimir Philippe will be the only casualty from the Church of Newark in this war, and that all of our sons and daughters will be home soon.
I sat in the sanctuary before the funeral began and listened as three men -- Governor McGreevey, an Army general, and a friend of the Philippe family -- each spoke briefly before the liturgy to the hundreds of friends, family and parishioners gathered about Gladimir Philippe’s sacrifice, about sorrow and loss, and about the Sergeant’s determination to serve the country that welcomed him as an immigrant not that many years before.
I recalled my own feelings about how families worry and fear for their loved ones while they serve in combat. One of my cousins was stationed near Iraq during the war. Not a day passed during his tour of duty without one of my brothers, sisters or cousins hoping out loud for his safety.
To bury a child, even an adult child, is something no one should have to do. Nor should anyone have to have to bury a parent when he himself is a child. To paraphrase an old Irish saying, “That isn’t the way of things.” Yet, in their grief, the Philippe family, from Gladimir’s father, to his 10-year old son, did just that, seeking the comfort of the Church and what she teaches about our hope in a new life in the Lord.
Although no one coordinated their statements prior to the funeral, the words of remembrance of the three men prior to the liturgy echoed those of the Gospel according to John on which Fr. Gillen based his homily: “No man has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Perhaps it was the coincidence of the Fourth of July celebration, when we recall the sacrifice and determination of our nation’s founders to establish a free and just society in this peaceful land of America. Perhaps it was the recognition that Gladimir Philippe, who came to this country to enjoy the benefits of freedom secured by the sacrifices of others, felt a similar duty to help establish a free society in Iraq.
But, as Bishop McDonnell and I visited with family members after the funeral, I thought perhaps that everyone in Roselle recognized that day that, as Christians, we are called to act for justice.