USS BONHOMME RICHARD, Yellow Sea --
Marines and sailors gather around a dining table with plates of fresh food. They clack their glasses full of grape juice together and laugh out loud. Spirits fly high during the Passover Seder meal, part of a week-long religious celebration of multiple faiths.
Chaplains with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Amphibious Squadron 11, and the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) held religious services for the diverse group of Marines and sailors during “Holy Week” here, April 13 - 20.
The weeklong services included Catholic masses, liturgical communions, contemporary Christian worship, Seventh-day Adventist celebrations, and a Jewish Seder meal and Passover celebration.
The Seder meal is an event that marks the start of the Jewish Passover celebration. The Passover itself marks the time when the Israelites were freed more than 3,000 years ago from the Egyptians.
Most Marines and sailors are used to celebrating their religious holidays with family and friends at home, so the week-long services were intended to give them the same camaraderie while deployed.
“For a lot of Jewish people, it’s a family holiday,” said Navy Lt. Yonatan M. Warren, a chaplain with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, and a native of Hampton, Va. “It’s celebrated in a home, but when you’re at sea and away from your loved ones, it’s pretty meaningful to celebrate it with fellow sailors and Marines.”
While the religions may differ in theology, traditions, and beliefs, the “Holy Week” has several significant events for each faith. It starts with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter when Jesus Christ was resurrected three days after being crucified.
“It is not a coincidence that different religious services coincide in the same time,” said Cmdr. William J. Muhm, command chaplain for the BHR, and a native of New York City. “Holy Week is an outgrowth of the Jewish Passover celebration.
During this time, it’s very important for like-minded people to come together and build community. Just like how the Marine Corps has its birthday celebration, Catholics have their own script to follow each year.”
During one Catholic mass, Muhm washed the feet of service members, imitating the scene from the Bible when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath and celebrate Easter on Saturday, following the Judeo-Christian calendar. Liturgical communions follow a strict guideline to how they perform their services every week, keeping it consistent.
Contemporary Christian services were held throughout the week and had events on different nights leading up to Easter, The movie “The Passion of the Christ” was played Wednesday night, a service celebrating the Last Supper was held on Thursday, and a sunrise service on Easter Sunday rounded out the week. During many of these services, Marines and sailors contributed by singing or playing instruments.
“I consider it an honor to contribute to the services while underway,” said Lance Cpl. Paul S. Siemucha, a guitarist and drummer during contemporary Christian services, and a native of Niagara Falls, N.Y. “Not many people can bring their own instruments (on the ship), so I have mine to add to the service and entertain the Marines and sailors that come.”
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 recently ended their regularly scheduled Spring patrol and provide a forward deployed maritime contingency response force capable of conducting a wide range of amphibious operations in the Asia-Pacific region.