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Memorial Day: Chaplains - A Reminder that We Are One Nation Under God
By Randy Sly
May 28th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The work of our chaplains extends much farther than the post chapel. They labor on land, at sea and in the air. There are 1.4 million Catholics in the military; wherever they are stationed, the chaplain is there. These chaplains can be found bringing Jesus Christ to their people in desert tents, on the aft deck of a guided missile cruiser, underwater on a submarine, and in post chapels.WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) - I'm a veteran. Not just a military veteran (which I am) but a Memorial Day Parade veteran. My career began in Cub Scouts, marching what felt like 50 miles through downtown. As I grew older I graduated in assignments from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts and then Marching Band. When I returned from Vietnam, I again marched on Memorial Day in my naval uniform complete with campaign ribbons.
The parade always ended at the cemetery where wreaths were placed around the war memorial and flowers decorated the stone monoliths marking the graves of departed soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.
The markers meant a lot more to me on the other side of serving. I knew friends who had fallen and watched plenty of tracer bullets from the deck of my destroyer whose targets could have ended in death.
Often, for many of our military who died in action, a chaplain was the final person in charge of their soul. In harm's way, these faithful servants of Christ's Church don't just stand beside the men and women in various branches of the service, they wear the uniform.
The work of our chaplains extends much farther than the post chapel. They labor on land, at sea and in the air. There are 1.4 million Catholics in the military; wherever they are stationed, the chaplain is there.
Their parishes are much different than a local church. Made up of mostly younger men and women, these congregations can change, through transfers and deployments, every two to three years. They also come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, some from the city, some from the country. As a friend of mine used to say, "It's like preaching to a parade."
These chaplains can be found bringing Jesus Christ to their people in desert tents, on the aft deck of a guided missile cruiser, underwater on a submarine, and in post chapels. We also honor the wonderful Archdiocese for the Military Services under the dedicated leadership of Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., S.T.B., B.A.
The U.S. Army was the first branch to use chaplains in 1775. They were not in uniform but traveled with the troops to provide spiritual care. The Second Continental Congress authorized chaplains and voted to pay them $20 a month.
According to a post from Donald R.McClarey on the blog "The American Catholic" the first Catholic chaplains were appointed in 1846 during the war with Mexico. While Catholic priests had informally offered their services before, this war was different as Mexico claimed this was a Protestant war against a Catholic nation. Morale among Catholic soldiers was very low and desertions were taking place.
The two priests first appointed for military service were Father Anthony Rey, vice-president of Georgetown and a Jesuit, and Father John McElroy, also a Jesuit, who went on to establish Boston College.
In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Retired Col. John W. Brinsfield, US Army Chaplain Corps historian talked about the this beginning of chaplains in America.
"Washington wanted [chaplains] to be religious leaders.... But the chaplains were also to visit the wounded, take care of the dead, write letters home for soldiers who couldn't write, give discourses of a patriotic nature to keep the soldiers from deserting. The chaplain was a very important link between the commander and the troops.
"Chaplains have been counseling soldiers since 1775 on things like trying to stay sober; don't cheat at cards; don't gamble away your pay, send it home; all that sort of thing. But in World War II, because the armies were so big, the chaplains got involved in a major way in trying to counsel the soldiers. We even had chaplains in Nuremberg to try to counsel the German POWs.
"Chaplains now have additional duties ... funeral duties, premarital counseling duties, religious education duties. Some of them are resource managers; some are historians."
Today chaplains serve all branches of the military: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and the Coast Guard. Navy chaplains are assigned to serve the latter two. Chaplains are also assigned to Veterans Administrations hospitals.
On May 21, 1989 a special memorial for Catholic Chaplains was erected at Arlington Cemetery. Located on Chaplain's Hill, the monument remembers 83 priests who gave their lives in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Because these brave men were willing to go into harm's way, our Catholic military had the opportunity for confession and Eucharist prior to a conflict. In many case, they were also able to receive last rites.
This Memorial Day, let us pause and remember our Chaplains. Let's give thanks for the sacrifice in serving their country as they serve the Lord. Let us especially remember those who laid down their lives for their friends.
For our Catholic Chaplains and all in military service this Memorial Day, we can pray:
"God, we beseech Thee, watch over those exposed to the horrors of war and to the spiritual dangers of a soldier's, a sailor's or airman's life. Give them such a strong faith that no human respect may ever lead them to deny it, or fear to practice it. Do Thou by Thy grace, fortify them against the contagion of bad example, that, being preserved from vice, and serving Thee faithfully, they may be ready to meet death whenever it may happen through Christ Our Lord.
"O Sacred Heart, inspire them with sorrow for sin, and grant them pardon. Mother of God, be with them in battle, and if they should be called to make the supreme sacrifice, obtain for them that they may die in the grace of Thy Divine Son.
"May their guardian angels protect them. Amen."
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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