During the 21st International Conference for Military Chaplains held in Spain this week, Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis of the Military Diocese in Colombia emphasized that spiritual care for soldiers and police officers in Latin America is not only necessary, but urgent.
Bishop Suescun, who also chairs the chaplain’s commission of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, lamented that the work of police officers and soldiers “is often not acknowledged by the people.”
“Some harbor resistance due to the abuses of power that have previously been committed. Also, among believers, there are sometimes reservations regarding pastoral work with the military world.” He continued, "sometimes it is said that because weapons are for violence and death...people who bear arms should not be cared for."
Responding to this objection, the bishop underscored that “the mission of the armed forces is clear: to defend sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; and to guarantee constitutional order, security and the well-being of the people.” For this reason, “I have no doubt that those who have been faithful and upright in the exercise of the police or military profession will also receive their reward at the end of time."
The bishop then noted that those in the armed forces tend to be religious due to family tradition, values of commitment and sacrifice, as well as the “proximity to death they experience on a frequent basis.”
The spiritual work of the military priests “fills the hearts of soldiers with peace and joy and shows them the transcendent implication of their mission,” Bishop Suescun explained. “For this reason, a believing soldier or policeman understands the exercise of his profession as a true service of love, as an authentic vocation and path to sanctity.”
Military chaplains “have an irreplaceable role,” he said, because the chaplain “is the ‘man of God’ who brings soldiers and policemen to the Lord.” In addition, he “comforts and encourages them, invites them to conversion and peace in friendship with Jesus.” He also “strengthens them with the Word of Life and the sacraments of grace.”
In order to be a military chaplain, Bishop Suescun said, “a special charism of the Spirit is required that allows one to operate apostolically in this specialized field. Living and understanding daily military life as a starting point is a given in the military culture."
Beyond the mere knowledge of such a life, the chaplain must “love his sheep, admire his mission and understand his responsibility to serve the social well-being,” the bishop stated.
“Our mission,” he added, has “an essential evangelical objective: that of proclaiming Jesus Christ amidst the conflict that members of the military and their families experience, so that, by living an authentically Christian life, they may be builders of peace.”