LETNICA/LETNICE, Kosovo — A Roman Catholic chaplain from Multinational Battle Group East (MNBG E) led a mass at the renowned Shrine of the Black Madonna on June 12 for United States NATO Kosovo Force soldiers.
Army Chap. (Capt.) Timothy Meier, Los Altos, Calif., said that while KFOR chaplains have joined local priests in celebrating mass at area churches before, this mass was unique because it was held in English specifically for U.S. KFOR troops.
“A number of soldiers went to mass there on the Monday after Easter, but it was a mass celebrated in the Croatian language,” he said. “It was not as satisfying as if they had been able to really understand what was being said.”
The Shrine of the Black Madonna is famous in the Balkans region and beyond because it is where Mother Teresa is reputed to have received a call from God to join a religious order.
“Her family, who hail from Skopje in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, each year make the trip through the mountains from Skopje over to Letnica (Letnice) on August 14, which is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” said Meier. “Previous KFOR rotations that have been here for the Assumption have gone to the celebration and it’s really quite an amazing event. People still walk through the mountains in order to attend.”
Because the U.S. soldiers in the KFOR 12 rotation will be departing Kosovo before the Feast of the Assumption, MNBG E’s Unit Ministry Team set up the mass as a way for soldiers to experience the church, said Meier.
“So many folks have heard of Mother Teresa and wanted to go,” he said. “I thought this would be an opportunity for us to celebrate a liturgy there. In our case, it will be a liturgy of thanksgiving because we are almost on our way home.”
Army Staff Sgt. Laton Lohmann, Dickinson, N.D., a MNBG E chaplain assistant, helped organize the event.
“There have been a lot of trips by our soldiers to see the Shrine of the Black Madonna but they haven’t had the chance to participate in a mass there,” he said. “Taking part in a mass adds a whole new element to the experience. They were able to see how the church is used rather than just a tour.”
More than 50 KFOR soldiers attended the mass, filling most of the seats in the small church. Army 1st Lt. Gretchen McDonnell, Piedmont, Okla., said the event was amazing.
“It was wonderful, just beautiful,” she said. “It was a very intimate setting with the small amount of people. I’m glad they organized this.”
Lohmann said that KFOR and the priest at the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Don Christe, have a very good relationship that has been built over the years. Therefore, arranging to use the church for the event involved only a phone call.
“I think he is very happy to see KFOR soldiers come to the church and even happier when they can participate in events and actually use the facility,” said Lohmann.
Meier said the intent of the event was to give the KFOR soldiers a liturgical experience that they could understand and that would have meaning for them.
“I think it turned out very well. People really enjoyed it,” said Lohmann. “This is a very rare thing that there is an exclusively American mass at the Shrine of the Black Madonna.”
Multinational Battle Group East is a U.S.- led unit, commanded by Army Brig. Gen. Al Dohrmann. This battle group is comprised of nearly 1,200 soldiers, including Task Force Hellas and Task Force POL/UKR (Polish/Ukraine) and Turkey. The charter mission of MNBG-E is maintaining a safe and secure environment and providing freedom of movement for the people in Kosovo.