Air Force Chaplain's Journey To Citizenship
by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Cozad Staley
Every day Father (Capt.) Pedro Jimenez Barros, a chaplain with
the 446th Airlift Wing, celebrates Mass, administers the sacraments,
and provides pastoral care to the Catholic community on Joint Base
Lewis-McChord. He has cherished similar responsibilities since he
was ordained in Spain fifteen years ago.
U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Pedro Jimenez Barros, a 446th Airlift Wing chaplain, leads mass using online streaming during unit training assembly Jan. 10, 2021 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Jimenez Barros, an ordained Catholic priest originally from Seville, Spain, became a United States citizen on Nov. 20, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Cozad Staley)
As of November 20, 2020, he now continues his chaplain duties as
a citizen of the United States of America. This is a milestone in
his quest to meet the spiritual needs of the men and women among
whom he is serving.
In 2018, Jimenez Barros traveled from
southern Spain to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, carried by a deep sense
of purpose and a resilient spirit. After receiving a permanent
resident card, he accepted a role as a contract priest with the Army
with the intent to commission into the Air Force Reserve as a
His Air Force story began ten years earlier, while
serving as a civilian Catholic priest on Moron Air Base, Spain.
During his time on base, Father Jimenez Barros noticed that there
was a need for Catholic chaplains in the Air Force.
observed that many Catholic service members couldn’t practice their
faith, because they didn’t have access to a priest. It had been a
long time since they had attended Mass, they didn’t have a way to
receive the sacraments, and their children couldn’t go to religion
Jimenez Barros felt convicted that he was called to
meet this need. This mission would become a long journey that
required a significant amount of sacrifice.
Before becoming a
priest, Jimenez Barros went to law school. Jimenez was raised in a
Catholic family in Seville. He had siblings that were doctors, and
his father was proud that he would round out the family as a lawyer.
But life called in a different direction.
Jimenez Barros did not feel fulfilled. “I felt called to work for
others,” he said. “I followed a priest for a couple of months and I
felt called to be a priest.”
At first, his father was disappointed when he changed vocational
“But now, I have brought him lots of joy because
he sees me doing what I love,” said Jimenez Barros. “I love being a
First, Jimenez Barros sought permission from the
bishop, which was granted in 2014. The journey of citizenship took
six years and separated him from his family by 5,436 miles, but
Jimenez Barros kept focused on his purpose.
questioned myself, why am I doing this? I have a good quality of
life, a great civilian job,” he said. “Then, I remember what brought
me to this country.”
During this lengthy process, Jimenez
Barros learned that he was one of the first green card holders to
apply for a Reserve officer position. Since he was paving the way,
he sometimes found himself in the dark.
“I called every
week,” he said. “You just need to persevere, keep calling and keep
pushing. It has been quite a journey.”
As a citizen, Jimenez
Barros is now eligible to transfer to active duty, the next step in
his mission to best serve the spiritual needs of the Air Force.
There are many bases around the country and the world that don’t
have a Catholic chaplain and he plans to be eligible to go where he
is most needed.
Currently, Jimenez Barros splits his time leading virtual and
U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Pedro Jimenez Barros, a 446th Airlift Wing chaplain, celebrates mass at the base chapel during a unit training assembly on Jan. 10, 2021, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Jimenez Barros, an ordained Catholic priest originally from Seville, Spain, became a United States citizen on Nov. 20, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Cozad Staley)
“During the pandemic, the chapel has been streaming services with
many views and once Chapel was open, registration for Mass was
full,” said Jimenez Barros.
Registration for chapel services
was put into place as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
When asked how he
has managed the trials and isolation of last year, Jimenez Barros
stated that remaining faithful and knowing he is needed have helped
him stay resilient.
“The pandemic has taught people to not
take things for granted. Many have realized they need to be
together, to pray together.”
Jimenez Barros keeps in close
contact with his family, despite not seeing them since summer of
Daily video calls and playing online video games with
his brother and nephew on weekends have helped him feel connected.
He also likes to cook Spanish dishes inspired by his mother such as
paella or tortilla de patata. He always has Spanish wine on the
In order to beat feelings of isolation, Jimenez Barros
likes to go hiking or spend time with friends, following social
distancing and safety measures. His tip is to be intentional about
reaching out to people.
“Be thankful all the time for what
you have right now,” said Jimenez Barros. “Try not to take things
for granted, it will help you enjoy the moment to the limit. What
you have today you might not have tomorrow.”
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