He told the story of Fr. Timothy Vakoc, who was wounded and later died after “the convoy he was in hit a roadside bomb” in Iraq.
“He was on his way to celebrate Mass and minister to his army troops,” the archbishop said of Fr. Vakoc.
These priests are “moved around,” with the help and cooperation of the military. After arriving at a base “they might have an hour to hear confessions, celebrate Mass, offer counseling and then leave again.”
“It’s a tremendous sacrifice,” Archbishop Broglio stressed, “but they do it quite well and they do it quite willingly.”
He noted that these priests serve members of the military regardless of whether or not they are Catholic. This service to non-Catholics is “two prong,” Archbishop Broglio added, including both “counseling” and “providing.”
“Counseling you can offer to anyone,” he said. And a chaplain, “is the only person on a military installation that has a hundred percent confidentiality.”
“If you have someone – a Muslim – you try to get him a lay leader or get him books or whatever it is that that he might need or space so that he can worship,” he explained.
In addition to serving active duty members, the archdiocese also ministers to military veterans.
“We provide Catholic priests for all of the hospitals of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Archbishop Broglio said, with “over 200 priests involved in ministry as hospital chaplains at these medical centers.”
Chaplains have held a place of importance from the beginning of the United States. The archbishop stressed the importance of First Amendment rights and “the freedom that a chaplain has to speak the truth to power.”
The “first thing” George Washington asked for “when he accepted his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army was that there be chaplains,” he stressed.
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This Memorial Day, the archbishop recommended praying for the intercession of Saint John of Capistrano, the patron of military chaplains, and Pope Saint John XXIII, who served as a military chaplain during World War I.