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October 15, 2004     567 Words

Military Chaplains: Serving Those Who Serve the Country

CINCINNATI—With over 1.4 million Catholic men and women serving in the U.S. military around the world, caring for their spiritual needs isn't easy. But Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A., since 1997, is more than up to the challenge. Archbishop O'Brien and hundreds of other military chaplains rejoice in serving those who risk their lives for our country.

In the November cover article "Ministry in the Military: Serving Those Who Serve," Assistant Editor Susan Hines-Brigger interviews Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien and Franciscan Father Robert Bruno, writing of their dangerous, but rewarding, work as military chaplains. After October 20, the article will be posted at:

According to its 2003 annual report, the Archdiocese for Military Services, U.S.A.—the largest geographical archdiocese in the Church—cares for the spiritual needs of 375,000 Catholic men and women, 737,500 family members, 204,000 Catholics in the Reserves and National Guard, 29,000 Catholics in 172 Veterans' Administration Medical Centers and 66,000 Catholics in 134 countries. Archbishop O'Brien heads about 375 full-time priests and about 480 priests who assist on a part-time basis.

Although providing spiritual direction for such a large group of military personnel is difficult, for Archbishop O'Brien, the need for it is obvious: "Soldiers have a right to the sacraments, they have a right to a healthy spiritual life, they have a right for moral guidance," he says. "They would get that if they knocked on their rectory door, and they should not have to forfeit that because they put on a uniform in service of their country."

For Father Robert Bruno, O.F.M., 24 years as a military chaplain has been a blessing that enables him to enrich the spiritual lives of soldiers. Father Bruno has worked as Command Chaplain for the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base for the past 14 months. Before that, he served for 19 months as the Command Chaplain for Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Such expertise has afforded Father Bruno an understanding of what those in the Air Force endure on a day-to-day basis.

"We're all stretched fairly thin and so being there as a support to our airmen, those who are overseas and taking care of their families when they're not with them. It is rewarding to be a part of that support network to get them through those tough times."

Another challenge is a diminishing number of chaplains. The military archdiocese has well below half the number of chaplains needed. Father Bruno predicts a record-low chaplain-count in the next year—below 100. Such low estimates sadden Archbishop O'Brien. "That kind of thing wrenches my heart. And I think that should wrench the heart of our Catholic people and our bishops as well."

Despite such stresses, both Archbishop O'Brien and Father Bruno are honored to be shepherds to a flock of millions. In the eyes of the archbishop, there should be comparisons made between the soldiers and Jesus Christ.

"Christ defined himself as one who came to serve and not be served. We have young people giving their lives to total strangers for the cause of peace. They wouldn't be doing what they are doing unless they're peacemakers."


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