Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Archbishop Pledges to Find More Chaplains

During his installation Friday, the new archbishop of the Military Services pledged to help fix a critical shortage of Catholic chaplains.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio was given his staff of office during an afternoon mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the nation's capital.

The Archdiocese of the Military Services serves 375,000 military Catholics worldwide.

It was created by Pope John Paul II in 1985 from the Military Vicarate, but has no seminary and no power to ordain men into the priesthood or as military chaplains.

It relies on local bishops to lend priests to serve with the military, but the shortage of Catholic priests nationwide has resulted in an even-more-critical gap in the military.

In a press conference after the installation mass, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio said his biggest goal is to get more chaplains, saying they are “desperately needed.”

About 300 active-duty Catholic chaplains military-wide minister to 1.4 million men and women worldwide and the military needs about 800 priests, according to Julia Rota, director of communications for the archdiocese.

Lt. Col. Gary Studniewski, a priest and the vocations and retention officer at the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains, said that the Army currently has 92 active-duty Catholic chaplains, and he expects to have 100 by the end of the summer. This small increase continues the upward trend of the past couple of years, but isn’t enough as the Army needs at least a couple hundred.

He added that only 25 priests, both active duty and reserve component, are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, so some Soldiers may go weeks or even months without mass or sacraments.

Nor does Arlington Cemetery have a full-time Army priest. Studniewski added that he and other local chaplains are able to cover most of the time and praised Arlington, but called the situation “heart-rending.” The situation highlights the importance of recruitment, he said, because with eight new priests, this post should be filled within a year.

“We have a very robust recruiting effort…” Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Carver, the Army’s chief of chaplains, said last year. “We visit the bishops, we visit Catholic seminaries and schools and communities so we can make them aware…of the need to provide for the spiritual needs of the Catholic men and women who maybe don’t have the opportunity to find a church nearby or drive somewhere.

“I think the most valuable thing we can do is tell the story of the great need and the opportunities to provide ministry in the military…We have a Consider the Call weekend in October, in which we challenge our military congregations, especially the Catholic congregations, about number one: ‘Are there some of you in the ranks who, you obviously know the military and how important it is, maybe God’s calling you to be a chaplain?

"Then we get them more information and let them see the chaplaincy up close," said Carver, "...Some of our Catholic leadership – senior noncommissioned officers and senior leadership – volunteer to go out to their particular dioceses, bishops or congregations to share the importance of faith and having a priest in the context of the military. So we’re working it hard.”

Studniewski said the efforts of Recruiting Command, the renewed interest of the chief of chaplains and the commitment of Broglio are bringing him hope, and he believes the Army is turning a corner when it comes to recruiting Catholic priests.

“The most positive thing in all this, I think, is Archbishop Broglio,” he said. “He can be agent with his fellow bishops to engender their support. I believe there are priests ready, willing and able to serve if they had permission from their bishops.”

“Many have asked about past military experience in my background,” Broglio said during his homily. “There is none. While I recognize the new and specialized ministry to which I have been called, the Holy Father’s task was to provide a pastor. I offer you almost 32 years of ordained ministerial experience.

“I promise to offer the best that I have to the faithful who have been entrusted to my pastoral care,” he continued. He offered thanks and prayers for both deployed and wounded servicemembers and veterans, and later sent them a message of courage and patience.

Broglio said that he intends to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, and spend as much time as possible with servicemembers and their Families.

“A pastor has to be with his flock. It just so happens that my flock is all over the world,” he said.

Broglio begins his ministry this week at the Fort Carson, Colo., and the Air Force Academy. He plans to conduct Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 6 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“I hope he’ll be pastoral in what he does and minister to all the members of the armed forces, in particular the Christians and Catholics who need the spiritual service,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew Smay, a nurse at Walter Reed, adding that he believes it’s important to support his bishop.

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