An answer to their prayers – QNS.com

An answer to their prayers

“For two years Todd Hegeman’s name was a name to be remembered,” said Arthur Caliandro, the senior minister at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. Every Sunday since February 2007, the Army Staff Sergeant’s name had been read aloud at the West 29th Street church along with a list of 10 or 15 others who were serving tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hegeman, 33, who said his job was to “go after high value targets” as part of a scout sniper squad in Iraq, had become a top priority for Marble congregants after his aunt, Marie Hedbavny, of Glendale, had his name added to the church’s weekly prayer list.
Week after week, around 1,000 Marble members from across the world prayed for Hegeman - an Ozone Park resident until he left for the Army at 20 - and others on combat duty while outside the church, thousands of yellow, green and blue ribbons fluttered in the breeze. The congregants prayed, hoping that Hegeman’s name would never appear along with one of the strips of fabric that symbolize all the lives, both American and Iraqi, lost in the war.
On Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, as church members honored the protestant military in town for Fleet Week, Hegeman, who returned to the U.S. in April, stepped up to the pulpit to thank Marble congregants for their prayers.
“The congregation totally messed me up,” Hegeman said laughing, explaining that he only got a sentence in before the crowd interrupted him with applause.
Honored by the standing ovation, Hegeman admitted he felt slightly embarrassed and overwhelmed, as did his mother Kathy Hegeman of College Point. Neither Hegeman nor his mother are members of the church.
“We are kind of humble people,” Kathy said. “And for attention to be drawn to us like that, it was - humbling,” she said with a nervous chuckle.
However, Kathy said she appreciated the continuous “spiritual protection” offered to her son while he was overseas.
“They didn’t just say his name once and drop it. They continued to do it until he and his buddies came home,” she said. “It warms a mother’s heart.
Minister Caliandro, too, was affected by the emotion on display at his church, especially after a group of veterans added more ribbons to the fence.
“For this group of people to come here to be of one mind,” he said of the array of rightwing republicans and leftwing democrats who make up his church. “There’s hope.”
“Let’s put it this way,” Hedbavny said of Marble Collegiate’s diverse congregation. “They might be against the war, but they support the troops.”
As for the troops, Hegeman is scheduled to go back to the Iraq region in July of 2009 but he has no doubts that a crowd of well-wishers - actually, an entire congregation’s worth - will be waiting on West 29th Street, praying for his safe return.
“I’m sure of it - my aunt will probably insist on it. So will my mom,” he said, laughing, happy to be in New York, which, for this veteran soldier, will always be home.

More from Around New York