NEWARK, New Jersey — Father Andrew De Silva, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, serves God and country, and he says one ministry influences the other.
He is parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Clark, New Jersey, and is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, serving in the Chaplain Corps. For the Reserves, the priest is required to report for duty twice a month and for two weeks during the summer.
Sharing his time between these two ministries doesn’t feel like a conflict, he said.
“I feel blessed to be able to be a parish priest, but at the same time, to be there when I’m needed for that community that is ready to put everything on the line for their country,” he explained.
“My ministry in the parish impacts or benefits my ministry to soldiers and vice versa: My parish ministry helps me bring spirituality to soldiers; my (time in the Army) brings leadership and professionalism to the parish ministry,” he said.
De Silva added, “It’s a rewarding ministry. I love serving soldiers and their families.”
Currently, he’s the head chaplain for the 8th Medical Brigade on the Staten Island borough of New York City. Part of his responsibilities include supervising the other chaplain teams in the brigade and providing spiritual support and guidance for the soldiers.
Due to the pandemic, this year has proven to be much more challenging.
“We’ve been busy setting up or preparing teams to set up field hospitals. A lot of our work has been to train soldiers to set up field hospitals,” De Silva said.
In April, when hospitals were nearing capacity and fear of COVID-19 was high, De Silva was on the road in New York and Pennsylvania tending to two different teams of soldiers preparing to be mobilized.
“There was a lot of stress and a lot of fear — fear for the future, fear for their families. The main difficulty was the uncertainty. I was there for celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and counseling soldiers,” De Silva said.
“As a chaplain, you’re also the go-to person when things get tough. I conducted a few classes on suicide prevention and stress management during the training,” he said. “I was there as a confidential person who people could talk to when things were going badly.”
De Silva noted that the timing of his absence from the parish worked out well since public celebrations of Mass in the Archdiocese of Newark had been canceled at the time. “I was able to celebrate the Triduum with soldiers who were away from families. But because of our online nature at the parish, I was still able to be somewhat present to St. Agnes.”
It also was his first Triduum as a priest — he was ordained in May 2019. He and St. Agnes’s pastor, Father William Sheridan, recorded a small retreat for parishioners before he left for duty. De Silva also was able to livestream a few Masses from his location in New York back to the parish.
Joking that it was like being in two places at the same time, he said he was grateful for the sense of support St. Agnes provided.
“It was good to have Father Bill and the parish there praying for this other flock that I was ministering to,” he admitted. “They were incredibly supportive. That was really beautiful to see. They’re a great community at St. Agnes.”
The Catholic Advocate is the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Newark.