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Military Chaplain Brings Faith to Troops on Front Lines
Scott Alessi
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, August 30, 2009
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TRENTON, N.J. (CNS)—Celebrating Mass, offering the sacraments and providing spiritual guidance are common activities for most Catholic priests. But for a select few, being a priest can also include time on the grenade range or participating in field exercises with men and women of the U.S. military.

Although it is not an easy life, Father Paul Halladay, a Catholic chaplain recruiter stationed in Fort Meade, Md., called it a vocation filled with blessings and rewards.
As a military chaplain, a priest must face numerous challenges not often encountered by a parish priest, such as working in all possible weather conditions and putting in long, grueling hours of service.

But Father Halladay, a priest of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., said such conditions also lead to a much deeper bond between a priest and the people he serves.

"Oftentimes you find yourself out in the field, right next to guys who are doing their military training," the priest said. "It is not just a relationship where they come to Mass on Sundays or they have their children in the school and they run into you in the school parking lot; they are working shoulder to shoulder with you every single day."

As a result of the close working relationship between a soldier and a chaplain, a priest in the military can serve as a personal spiritual guide to those in his flock, helping them through the challenges and stresses of military life.

"You end up spending a lot of time on marriage counseling and a lot of time just counseling soldiers through personal difficulties," the priest told The Monitor, newspaper of Diocese of Trenton, in a phone interview.

A major problem for priests in the military today, he said, is their multiple duties because of the current shortage of chaplains.

He explained that most chaplains have two distinct jobs. They are assigned to run the religious program for a battalion, which can consist of 300 to 900 soldiers of varying religious denominations. At the same time, many also are called upon to serve as Catholic chaplain for a military installation where they tend to the needs of all the Catholic soldiers on post.

The military's ecumenical environment also provides other unique working conditions, he said.

Father Halladay said that every day he goes to work next to Baptist chaplains, Presbyterian chaplains, Lutheran chaplains, rabbis and imams.

"I have to be able to work side by side with these guys without letting religious differences or prejudices get in the way," he said, adding that it provides a unique opportunity for talking about the Catholic faith.

From a personal standpoint, Father Halladay said, the greatest reason for a priest to want to go into military service is to find a more fulfilling means of living out his own vocation.

"It is worth it whenever you are able to get through to a soldier or you are able to help out a family that has been seriously affected by what they've been required to do in defense of this nation," he said. "It is just a great way to operate as a priest."

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