The Long-Distance Miracle
8/1/2018by Columbia staff
A former military chaplain’s life is saved thanks to heavenly aid and the sacrificial love of a brother Knight
Sometimes, the biggest miracles in Lourdes are ones most people would never notice. For Chris Moore, it was watching former U.S. Army chaplain Father Dennis Callan spring from his chair and bound down the stairs after a daily pilgrimage briefing. Why miraculous? Because a year earlier, Father Callan was dying from a liver disease and no longer had the strength to walk.
Two women, however, intervened. The Blessed Virgin Mary — who in 1858 identified herself at Lourdes as the Immaculate Conception — took loving care of her priestly son who was born on her feast day, Dec. 8, 1955. The other woman was Moore’s wife, Heidi, a convert to Catholicism, who had been praying for a miracle. Ultimately, her prayer was answered after Chris, an Army chief warrant officer four currently serving at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., donated part of his liver to save Father Callan’s life.
The Moores met Father Callan in 2014 while stationed at Camp Humphreys, a base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. They now live with their two young sons in Sierra Vista, Ariz., where Chris is grand knight of Our Lady of the Mountains Council 10799. Father Callan is alive and well in Chicago at the home of his religious order, the Divine Word Missionaries.
Together with the Moores, Father Callan attended this year’s Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage, co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, May 15-22.
“I felt as if I had to come to Lourdes to thank Our Lady for her protective care last year while I was going through all this,” Father Callan said during the pilgrimage. “And that protective care I feel even now.”
A decade before meeting Father Callan, Chris and Heidi Moore met while jumping out of airplanes — training together at Airborne School in Fort Benning, Ga.
One of the things that attracted Heidi to Chris was that he had once donated his bone marrow after receiving a letter that he was a perfect match for someone.
“That was one of the reasons why I married him,” she said. “I thought, ‘If he’s willing to go through surgery for someone he doesn’t even know, what would he do for his family?’”
Chris and Heidi were both assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., and got married in 2013. When they moved to South Korea the next year, Heidi was pregnant with their first son, Nicholas. No longer serving in the military, she was hired as parish coordinator, a job that would put her in frequent contact with Father Callan.
A native of Levittown, Pa., Father Callan was serving as the regional superior for the Divine Word Missionaries when Bishop Francis Xavier Yu Soo-il of the Military Ordinariate of Korea persuaded him to become a military chaplain at Camp Humphreys.
Father Callan first joined the Knights of Columbus in 1987, the year he was ordained, and after serving 20 years in Taiwan, he got reconnected to the Order in South Korea.
“I finally got in contact with the Knights of Columbus because they were providing rice and other supplies to one of our centers for migrant workers,” he recalled. “Receiving their support for our apostolate, and then also being of service to the Knights in South Korea, was a real gift for me, which encouraged me in my priesthood.”
In addition to working with the first K of C councils in South Korea outside of a military base, Father Callan became chaplain of Bishop John J. Kaising Council 14223 at Camp Humphreys in 2015.
“I believe the Knights are very instrumental in forming a brotherhood of faith,” he explained.
Chris Moore joined Council 14223 around the same time, shortly before becoming a charter member of Father Emil J. Kapaun Council 16306 at Osan Air Base, located 12 miles north.
By the end of the year, however, Father Callan announced he was leaving Korea and heading back to the United States to get treatment for liver cirrhosis. It was an abrupt goodbye, and as is so often the case in military life, the Moores and Father Callan wondered if they would ever cross paths again.
IN GOD’S HANDS
In late 2016, the Moores relocated to Arizona and got news of Father Callan’s urgent plight. By that time, Father Callan had learned that without a liver transplant, he would die within six months.
“I was already to a point where I had to start preparing, making arrangements for my funeral,” he recalled.
Relatives tried to help, but a good match was difficult to find, especially since Father Callan had withheld his name from the donor list.
“I figured I’m a priest and would accept whatever the Lord had in mind for me,” he said. “I didn’t want to take the opportunity away from another person to receive a liver.”
Heidi followed his struggle on Facebook, and when Father Callan started signaling his goodbyes, she couldn’t sit by passively and watch him die.
Chris recalls Heidi saying, “He’s not going to make it, Chris. What do we do? I’m going to volunteer.”
Heidi remembers what Chris said next: “No! You’re my wife. … I’m going to see if I’m a match first.”
Heidi was struck by her husband’s selfless action and quick response.
“I thought that summarized what Catholic marriage should be,” she said. “He just knew that my goals were to get Father Dennis healthy — and he was immediately going to help me with those goals by trying to get tested first.”
That didn’t mean Heidi wasn’t nervous or anxious about the outcome. But after copious amounts of research, the couple jumped in fully committed to wherever their leap of faith would take them.
“It just shook me to the core that they were willing to make this sort of sacrifice for me as they were raising two very young boys,” said Father Callan.
Both Father Callan and Chris Moore had initially planned to attend the 2017 Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage. Neither was able to make it, due to Father Callan’s condition and Chris being tested for organ compatibility, but that didn’t mean they didn’t receive graces from the pilgrimage.
“It was during that week that we were informed that Chris was a match,” Father Callan said. “I like to say that was a long-distance miracle from Lourdes!”
LESSONS OF FAITH AND LOVE
For Chris, once he found out he was a perfect match, it was a “no-brainer.” He was cleared by the surgeon general of the U.S. Army, which allows a soldier to stay in service following a liver donation because the organ regenerates itself. The medical team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital similarly gave their approval, and the operation was scheduled.
The entire situation seemed to be orchestrated from above.
“Father Dennis was sent to a military installation where we were able to meet,” Chris said. “I have the same blood type. I had a compatible liver — and it’s the only organ you can donate and maintain your military service. … Everything just lined up!”
Both Chris and Father Callan came through the transplant in good health and recovered in record time — the “second” miracle, they say, after the successful operation.
“I was back at our community residence in nine days,” recalled Father Callan, who was scheduled to be in the hospital for three weeks. “Normally, donors go through a harder time in recovery than transplant patients do,” he added, “but Chris was up and bouncing around like nothing had happened. The nurses and doctors were just absolutely flabbergasted by that.”
Father Callan said the entire experience has taught him an overwhelming lesson in God’s love, adding that when many get seriously ill, they question, “Why?”
“What we have to realize is that God is present with us. God is leading us, guiding us through the many trials we face,” he said. “God is always present, caring and loving us in ways that we don’t necessarily understand.”
Sometimes, Father Callan added, it may feel like we’re hanging from a branch on the side of a cliff.
“And you hold on for dear life, but you know that your strength is going to wane and fade away,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, you hear a simple voice in your heart that says, ‘Let go. I’ll take care of you.’”
While Chris Moore admits he can be a “rather impulsive person” — “I jump out of airplanes for a living!” — the decision to donate his liver was not taken lightly.
Nonetheless, “It was an easy decision,” he said, “because it was the right thing to do.”
Today, a part of Chris’ adventurous spirit is in the spring of Father Callan’s step. Chris has a smaller liver, and Father Callan has a new life.
‘Peace on Earth’
The 2018 Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage brings healing and peace to many
A DELEGATION of more than 200, including over 50 wounded, ill or injured U.S. military personnel, took part in the fifth annual Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage May 15-22. Co-sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS) and the Knights of Columbus, the pilgrimage coincided with the 60th annual International Military Pilgrimage (PMI), which gathered some 15,000 military personnel from more than 50 countries under the theme “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth).
“The Marian Shrine at Lourdes is a place of hope where healings of many types take place, both physical and spiritual,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, who joined pilgrims with his wife, Dorian. “It is an opportunity for active-duty personnel, veterans and their caregivers to experience an abundance of peace and consolation while in this holy place.”
In a message to Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims, U.S. Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, who led the delegation from the United States, expressed his gratitude to the Knights of Columbus for making possible “the pilgrimage of many wounded warriors and infirm veterans who would not otherwise have been able to join in this important international prayer for peace.”
Reflecting on this year’s theme, he added, “The military knows all too well the cost of war. So we make pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine in the hope that our Mother might teach us to live in peace.”
“I came to honor my husband, who was battling cancer and passed in November (2017). This pilgrimage has brought me peace, and seeing everybody praying to our Blessed Virgin Mary and everybody’s faith really just touched my heart. It’s such a valuable opportunity for our service members to come for spiritual healing and for physical healing.
“I’m very grateful for the Knights that supported us to come here to Lourdes. And I love the relationship that they have with the Archdiocese of the Military Services so that this pilgrimage can take place.”
— Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Kathy Thorp, a 2018 Warriors to Lourdes pilgrim
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thorp’s husband, Capt. Owen G. Thorp, served as financial secretary of Commodore John Barry Council 14534 in Annapolis, Md.
2018 Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage Schedule Highlight
Thursday, May 17
• Visit to baths at healing waters (also on May 18 and 21)
• Opening Mass for Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims, St. Joseph Chapel
Friday, May 18
• Stations of the Cross for Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims
• Opening Mass for U.S. pilgrims, Rosary Basilica
• International Opening Ceremony, Basilica of St. Pius X
• Celebration of Anointing of the Sick, Notre Dame Chapel
Saturday, May 19
• Mass in Grotto for English-speaking pilgrims
• Ceremony at the War Memorial
• Candlelight Marian Procession
Pentecost Sunday, May 20
• International Mass, Basilica of St. Pius X
• Closing Ceremonies, Rosary Esplanade