The Wall That Heals exhibit is a memorial of the Vietnam War, a divisive conflict in America’s modern history as well as a turning point in global affairs.
From Sept 19 to 22, the veterans memorial visited St. Joseph Cemetery on the west side of South Bend. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Mass in the Catholic cemetery’s chapel, remembering the faithful departed from the conflict who are buried on the premises.
This traveling three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is built in a chevron shape, which seems to rise up as a visitor walks to the apex or middle of the wall, where the east and west sides meet. It has visited states from coast to coast since 1996; everywhere it’s set up, guests make rubbings of names engraved on the wall.
The replica is made from Avonite, a type of synthetic granite. As on the original, the names on The Wall That Heals are listed by day of casualty. It also has LED lighting, so readability is possible all day and night.
The original monument was created in 1982, designed by 21-year-old Maya Lin. There are 58,276 names of beloved dead or prisoner-of-war/missing-in-action engraved on the 493-foot long piece of granite. Of those names, 16 chaplains are listed. The men and women remembered range in age from 15 to 62, the average age being 23 years old.
A final resting place for the faithful departed and place of remembrance and prayer for those who love them, St. Joseph Cemetery has also many veterans of Vietnam and other conflicts.
Bishop Rhoades, in his homily, spoke to the importance of Catholic cemeteries. “People come here to St. Joseph Cemetery to remember their deceased loved ones. Many also stand at their graves to pray; with love, they ask the Lord to grant eternal peace to their loved ones.” He encouraged the faithful who were gathered to also pray for men and women listed on the visiting monument and wall.
“This wall helps us to remember and honor them, and most importantly, to pray for them. That is why we celebrate this Mass here today: to pray for them and for all of the veterans of the Vietnam War.”
From the Gospel of the day, Luke 7:36-50, he preached on God’s mercy and forgiveness of human sins, as well as peace and true healing.
“Something shocking took place. A woman entered the house of the Simon the Pharisee, who was known as a sinner. … With love and veneration, she went over to Jesus. She wept at his feet and bathed them with her tears. She wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with ointment.
“The sinful woman, unlike Simon the Pharisee, believed in Jesus. She wept in sorrow for her sins. And she loved. She allowed the love of Jesus to be poured into her. And so she was healed. Jesus forgave her sins. She was able, then, to go in peace.
“The sinful woman is an example for us sinners, an example of faith and repentance. She teaches us to have the courage to come to the Lord in faith, to be sorry for our sins, to go to the Lord, as we do when we go to confession, with trust in His love. It’s by coming courageously to the feet of the Lord in humility and sorrow, and trusting in Him, that we discover His mercy and kindness. Then we, too, can go and live in peace.”
Jesus’ peace is what really heals people, he said. Christ’s peace, which surpasses our own human understanding, can be received, resolving the pain and conflict of war.
A Catholic and a Vietnam veteran, Gerry Poh, drove to St. Joseph Cemetery to worship at Mass with Bishop Rhoades. He explained: “As a Vietnam vet, I’m really glad the wall is here. Coming back home in those years wasn’t the most pleasant thing.”
Poh is from Richmond, Virginia. He served in 1966, 1967, and 1969 in the Vietnam conflict, with the Army, after graduating from ROTC at the University of Notre Dame. Now retired and a widow, he spends a large portion of his year in the South Bend area as an active parishioner and lector at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
With a southern drawl, he described how people were divided about whether the U.S. should have become involved in the war. Returning veterans, who had just experienced the horrors of war, often weren’t welcomed back.
“It was a horrific time. Everyone who serves and dies … we don’t realize the numbers. We think three people dying are a lot these days. There are so many people across America who still need healing.”
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