Answering a Higher Call: A chaplain's journey to citizenship

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Heather Cozad Staley
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Every drill weekend, 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.

 As of Nov. 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 chaplain.

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.

He 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 class.

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.

Studying law, 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 directions.

“But now, I have brought him lots of joy because he sees me doing what I love,” said Jimenez Barros. “I love being a priest.”

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.

“Sometimes I 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 in-person Mass.

“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 2019.

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 table.

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.”


This feature article is part of a unit campaign to share stories of 446th Airlift Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen's resilience in 2020.