CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS (NNS) -- "It's our pleasure to start your 'winging day' with this ceremony," said Father John Vidal to the student pilots, friends and families gathered in the Catholic chapel aboard Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.
The morning of each day a winging ceremony is scheduled, Vidal and Command Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Steve Warne conduct a voluntary "blessing of the wings" ceremony.
"We exist to support you, provide for your religious needs," Warne told those gathered, "because we think it's important."
He reminded the group that sometimes when people are "at the bottom," it's their faith that gets them through.
Warne also told the naval aviators, "You are going to be doing a lot of great things in the cockpit. Life is about relationships and your family. Don't put yourself in a place of isolation. Get connected to your community of faith that can actively support you."
He added that military chapels provide a "built-in community," where others understand who you are.
Pointing to the tapestries with wings affixed to them, Warne said. "You are even connected to pilots who flew in World War II."
Construction of NASCC's Protestant chapel was completed in late 1941 and the first worship services were held on Sunday, Dec. 7, of that year, about the same time Pearl Harbor was being bombed. Construction of the Catholic chapel began immediately after the Protestant chapel was completed.
According to the chaplains, during World War II, many Catholic chaplains began blessing the wings of Catholic aviators. This tradition continued throughout the years and eventually became a "Blessing of the Wings" service in chapels around the world.
Eventually the service included other Christian traditions and became the "Aviator's Blessing," accompanied by pinning a set of wings on a tapestry.
People come to the chapel and pray for those represented by the wings. Additionally, prayers are offered at Catholic Mass each Sunday for the men and women represented on the tapestries.
"There may be someone out there, right now, maybe even in a combat zone, who has their wings blessed. We take time to stop and pray for them every Sunday, we say a blessing," Warne said.
Hundreds upon hundreds of aviator wings and other insignia are displayed on encased tapestry throughout the NAS Corpus Christi Chapel. They represent all those who had their wings blessed prior to their winging ceremony.
"Many people don't know what a 'blessing' is," said Vidal to those gathered at the chapel July 31. "We are setting something aside for God. Setting these wings aside reminds us that 'Lord, I'm taking you with me in the cockpit.'
"You are connecting to a community and connecting to God."
Vidal sprinkles holy water on the aviators' wings and gives the aviators explicit instructions on numbering, recording in a log book and placing their blessed wings on the tapestry.
This, he tells them, is so that anyone can find the wings of any aviator who had their wings blessed at the chapel.
"Now you have God with you," Vidal said.
Naval Air Station Corpus Christi has been home to naval pilot training since 1941. Today, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and foreign student pilots earn their wings at training in the four squadrons of Training Air Wing 4.
For more news from Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, visit www.navy.mil/local/nascc/.