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A chat with the Philly priest who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan

Father Stephen McDermott surveys the landscape in Afghanistan, where he served for the last year, earning the Army’s Bronze Star. Credit:

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 26, 2016 / 06:40 am (CNA).- After Mass at a typical parish, it’s fellowship over coffee and donuts. But for troops stationed in Afghanistan, after Mass it’s cigars smoked down to the nub.

Father Stephen McDermott, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a U.S. Army chaplain who recently was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Afghanistan, just completed a year-long tour of duty in the country. He recalls how after the Sunday evening Mass, about 25 soldiers would gather for a smoky, improptu catechetical session.

“We’d just sit around and burn down a cigar, and it was one conversation: ‘Father, what do you think about this or that?’ They would come with their questions, and that was just a golden time of doing that.”

He promoted the practice even in small outpost bases when he stayed overnight. “I would post a sign saying, ‘Mass at this time followed by Holy Smokes,’” he said.

Much of Father McDermott’s time is spent ministering to Catholics and anyone else at the sprawling Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of service personnel and civilians live and work.

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