Imagine your job is to provide spiritual and emotional support and guidance to a parish of thousands of mostly young men and women. Imagine most of the people in your parish move away every three years and that new people move in.
Imagine that you too, must move and start learning the ropes of a new place, and that you are the only priest in the area. That constant change is part of the every day life and work of Catholic chaplains in the military. Unlike a priest in a civilian parish, chaplains in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard must work with a constantly changing group of people. It is a personal ministry of presence, caring for the needs of Catholic military personnel and their families.
A Parish that Stretches Across the World
The work of chaplains is not confined to the chapel. They go wherever their people are—in a tent in the desert, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, in the barracks on base, on a fire-fighting line, in the VA hospital, in the halls of the Pentagon.
Because military service requires extraordinary sacrifices of those who serve and their families, chaplains strive to make themselves available and present, day or night, to offer guidance, education, and direction on Church doctrine or simply to listen. Through their words and actions, they provide a place where those in the military can take comfort in and draw strength from the sacraments and reflect on the responsibilities and challenges they have taken on to protect their fellow Americans.
A Flexible, Creative Ministry
The 1.8 million Catholics served by chaplains are a diverse group: 5th generation soldiers, new citizens, young people from cities and farms, veterans, people in positions of command, young mothers and fathers. Chaplains often speak about the exciting, creative nature of their ministry. They seek ways to reach out and connect with the different people they serve on a personal level, an opportunity they note is hard to come by in a civilian parish.
The days are long. It can be lonely. Yet if you talk to most any of the priest-chaplains in the military, they will tell you they would not trade this ministry for any other. The rewards are great. The support of people in the military is there. They are open to spiritual growth and willing to work hard for it. As the people in our military do the difficult work of protecting our freedom, Catholic chaplains walk beside them, providing the spiritual and emotional strength they need.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D.