United States military chaplain

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Pope’s Address to Course for Military Chaplains

“As Christians, we are profoundly convinced that the ultimate objective, that most worthy of the person and of the human community, is the abolition of war”

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Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave this morning to participants in the 4th Course of Formation of Military Chaplains in International Humanitarian Law. The course is organized jointly by the Congregation for Bishops, by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

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Dear Brothers,

I am happy to receive you on the occasion of the 4th Course of Formation of Military Chaplains in International Humanitarian Law, organized jointly by the Congregation for Bishops, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. I greet you all cordially, beginning with Cardinals Ouellet, Turkson and Tauran.

You have come together from different countries to reflect together on some of the present challenges of International Humanitarian Law, regarding the protection of human dignity during non-international armed conflicts and so-called “new” armed conflicts. Unfortunately, it is a topic of great present importance, especially if we think of the intensification of violence and the multiplication of theaters of war in several areas of the world, such as Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

In the ambit of the Course of Formation, you have been able to meditate and to exchange experiences on how your mission of spiritual support of members of the Armed Forces and of their families can contribute to prevent the violations of Humanitarian Law, for the purpose of reducing the pain and suffering that war always causes, in one who suffers it, certainly, but also in one who combats it. War, in fact, disfigures the bonds between brothers, between Nations; it also disfigures those who are witnesses of such atrocities. Many military men return after war operations or missions for the re-establishment of peace with true and proper interior wounds. War can leave an indelible mark on them. In reality, war always leaves an indelible mark. I have heard at this time the stories of so many Bishops, who receive in their dioceses soldiers who left to engage in war: how they return with these wounds.

Therefore, it is necessary to question oneself about the appropriate ways to cure the spiritual wounds of the military men that, having lived the experience of war, have witnessed atrocious crimes. These persons and their families require specific pastoral care, a solicitude that will make them feel the maternal closeness of the Church.

The role of the military chaplain is to accompany and support them in their journey, being for all of them a consoling and fraternal presence. You can pour on the wounds of these persons the balm of the Word of God, which alleviates the pains and infuses hope; and you can offer them the grace of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation, which nourish and regenerate the afflicted soul.

Humanitarian Law intends to safeguard the essential principles of humanity in a context, that of war, which is dehumanizing in itself. It is geared to protecting those that do not take part in the conflict, such as the civilian population, the health care and religious personnel, and those that no longer take part actively [in the war], such as the wounded and prisoners. At the same time, this Law tends toward a ban of the weapons that inflict atrocious and useless suffering to the combatants, as well as particularly grave damages to the natural and cultural environment. To be able to carry out its objectives of humanizing the effects of armed conflicts, Humanitarian Law merits to be defused and promoted among all military men and Armed Forces, including those that are not of the State, as well as among the security and police personnel. Moreover, [the Law] needs to be further developed to address the new reality of war, which today, unfortunately, “has ever more deadly instruments” (Encyclical Laudato Si’, 104). I hope that the moments of discussions provided within the Course can contribute to the courageous search for new ways in this direction.

However, as Christians, we are profoundly convinced that the ultimate objective, that most worthy of the person and of the human community, is the abolition of war. Therefore, we must always be committed to build bridges that unite and not walls that separate; we must always help to seek the hope for mediation and reconciliation; we must never yield to the temptation to consider the other only as an enemy to destroy, but rather as a person, gifted with intrinsic dignity, Created by God in His image (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 274). Even in the midst of the laceration of war, we must never tire of reminding that “each one is immensely sacred” (Ibid.).

At this time, in which we are living a “third world war fought in pieces,” you are called to nourish in military men and in their families the spiritual and ethical dimension, which will help them to face the difficulties and the often lacerating questions inherent in this unique service to the homeland and to humanity. I also wish to greet some of the eminent personalities that were sent to offer their competence and experience in the field of Humanitarian Law and who contribute to avoid and alleviate great sufferings. I thank them. I want to assure you of my closeness in prayer and I accompany you with my Blessing, which I also impart, confirming to you chaplains the need for prayer. Chaplains must pray. Without prayer one cannot do all that humanity, the Church and God ask of you at this time. Ask your chaplains, ask yourselves: how much time of the day do I give to prayer? The answer will do everyone good. I impart to you and to all those entrusted to your pastoral care, my heartfelt Blessing. And please, do not forget to pray for me.

[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]

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