Head chaplain and U.S. Army Reserve captain makes an impact during pandemic

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CLARK, NJ — The coronavirus pandemic is a global phenomenon that has affected everyone and changed lives forever. The virus, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world, does not discriminate among victims, making this a scary time for all.

Many have turned to prayer and community fellowship for comfort. The belief that a higher power has all the answers has helped them get through these dark days. One church leader knows of this all too well.

“I am a brigade chaplain for the 8th Medical Brigade on Staten Island and have been in this position since early February, right in time for the coronavirus pandemic,” Father Andrew De Silva said in a Sept. 6 interview with Union County LocalSource.

De Silva, who is also the parochial vicar for St. Agnes Church in Clark, has been a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Corps for seven years.

Among his responsibilities, De Silva supervises other chaplain teams in the brigade and provides spiritual support and guidance to the soldiers.

Spiritually uplifting individuals on a day-to-day basis, De Silva is living his passion.

“I love my ministry to soldiers and their families,” De Silva said. “I particularly love ministering to those who are, like me, juggling their professional lives with their service to their country.”

As a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, De Silva found dealing with the pandemic no easy feat.

“During the end of Lent and approaching Easter, as our churches were closed for public worship, many of the soldiers from our brigade were activated to prepare for setting up field hospitals,” De Silva said. “For a number of weeks, I was activated with them to provide religious and spiritual support. As a chaplain, I am both an officer and a priest.

“In addition to the religious practices of my faith,” he continued. “I am the ethical and religious counselor to the commander and am available to all soldiers who might be struggling, regardless of their faith background.”

During the height of the pandemic, when hospitals were nearing capacity and anxiety was at an all-time high, De Silva was tending to two different teams of soldiers as chaplain. As the chaplain, he was often the go-to person for soldiers when times were tough.

“For the soldiers preparing to deploy to set up field hospitals, there was a great amount of uncertainty and fear,” De Silva said. “Many of them were providers in hospitals and left their civilian jobs and their families to serve the greater need of the country. I conducted some classes in stress management and suicide prevention, in addition to speaking to soldiers individually during this difficult time.”

Able to juggle dual roles, De Silva was simultaneously captain and chaplain.

“I am able to share time with the Army because of the generosity of the parishioners at St. Agnes Church, where I serve as a full-time priest,” De Silva said. “They support and appreciate my time with soldiers, and I have often invited soldiers who are either activated or conducting training to follow our livestream masses in Clark.”

Reflecting on this historical pandemic, De Silva said he was not fearful for himself.

“I was not afraid for myself but was very aware how difficult it was for our soldiers to be away from their families during this frightening time,” De Silva said.

“I hope that I can continue to be an instrument of God in the lives of all those placed in my path,” De Silva continued. “Whether they are civilian or our citizen soldiers in the U.S. Army Reserve.”

Photos Courtesy of Archdiocese of Newark