Military "Shepherds" Flock to Conference

Armed Forces Should Be Agents for Peace, Participants Say

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 21, 2002 ( The Catholic Church faces more danger from syncretism than from religious war, says an archbishop in the wake of a conference that focused on pastoral care in the armed forces.

Archbishop Giuseppe Mani, Italy´s military chaplain, made his comments in an interview with Vatican Radio. He had attended the Jan. 17-18 conference, which was promoted by the Vatican Congregation for Bishops and which attracted all European bishops working in pastoral care of the military.

The first congress of this type was held in Fulda, Germany, in 1992. At the time, the Balkans war was raging, and John Paul II exhorted military chaplains to become architects in the construction of a «Europe of the spirit.»

This year´s congress debated whether the armed forces could be effective agents for peace.

«The armed forces not only can, but must, be active agents in building peace,» Archbishop Mani said in his Vatican Radio interview. «There is no constitution in any state, at least in Europe, which conceives of the armed forces for attack, but [only] for defense.»

«The Pope has expressed his full support for the famous humanitarian interference that stops [war] when it holds back the aggressor´s fist,» the Italian military chaplain clarified. «He himself has appealed to nations to block these fratricidal wars.»

Particular attention was given during the congress to the interreligious dialogue within the army, as soldiers increasingly live with companions of different confessions.

«The danger the Church runs today is that of syncretism, not of a religious war,» Archbishop Mani stressed.

«It is much easier to defend oneself from syncretism and maintain one´s own religious identity in a context of peaceful confrontation, than to undertake a religious war,» he said. «I believe this is an open experience in the armed forces, it is full of great fraternity, not only among the ministers of worship, but also among the faithful who have different beliefs or confessions.»

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