By Thomas Caywood TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER— Cecelia M. Mason has a plan to end the Iraq war. She organized a group of fellow parishioners at Our Lady of the Angels Church on Main Street to make rosaries for the troops and hopes to expand the effort to include sending Bibles and even religious items for people of other faiths.
“With enough prayer over there, we’re hoping that something will happen where this war will end,” Ms. Mason said over the Memorial Day weekend.
And that couldn’t come soon enough for her, especially since her son, U.S. Navy Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class Raymond R. Mason, 39, of Worcester, is scheduled to return to the war zone this summer.
His last deployment to the region, during the 1991 Gulf War, gave Mrs. Mason and her husband, Raymond Sr., a shock they may never fully recover from.
Her son, a Navy electrician, had finished work at a barracks in Kuwait and left shortly before an incoming Iraqi Scud missile struck the building killing scores of American troops, she said.
But in the resulting confusion, military authorities didn’t immediately realize her son wasn’t in the building at the time of the attack. They notified Mrs. Mason that her son likely was killed and told her there was little hope of recovering remains from the smoldering wreckage, she said.
“We found out three days later, when his commanding officer in California, where he was based, called us. They were trying to break the news to me that my son was alive when his voice came over the phone,” Ms. Mason said, breaking down in tears with the memory.
“That still gets to me. You have no idea how happy I’ve been that my boy came back to me alive,” she added. “All I could picture was having him home in a flag-draped coffin.”
So when she heard about projects in other states to make military-appropriate rosaries out of nylon parachute cord and tan plastic beads — so they don’t jingle and so they blend in with desert uniforms — Mrs. Mason decided to launch a similar effort here.
After a few notices in the church bulletin, she assembled a group of roughly 20 volunteers to help her out, and Mrs. Mason said she would welcome more hands.
“Our purpose is to promote inspiration for the troops. Our military is equipped physically and mentally, and we’re going to equip them spiritually,” she said.
The group, dubbed Operation Ranger Rosary, hopes to send the first batch of handmade rosaries to Iraq in late June.
Ms. Mason has made contacts with a high-level chaplain in Iraq, who has pledged to makes sure the rosaries are distributed to soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in the field. Ms. Mason said she can make about four rosaries per hour.
“You string a bead, tie a knot, string a bead, tie a knot until you have the 59 beads,” she said.
So far the group has assembled roughly 150 rosaries from supplies they bought with private donations. They hope to make 500 before they send the first shipment in late June.