November is the season of remembrance, and especially a time to remember those who have died in war. Here we remember the many Priests who have served in times of conflict.
Catholic military chaplains have served – and died – in every major war and conflict. They provide spiritual support, pastoral care, and guidance to Catholic servicepeople and their families. And it is as much a ‘front line’ post as the people they serve. Bishop Paul Mason, the Catholic Bishop of the Forces explains:
‘You need to be present among serving personnel to understand what they do – to have some insight into the challenges and difficulties they have to live through.
‘Military chaplains need to stand alongside the people that they serve. From that point you build trust, and once you have built trust, you’re in a far better position to be able to explore with people the nature of their own faith, their own spirit and to support and help to them’.
Pope John XXIII
Pope John XXIII, commonly known as the ‘Good Pope’ and a former National Director of Missio,also knew what it was to serve in wartime. At the start of the First World War, when he was still Fr Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, he served as a field hospital assistant and stretcher bearer, then as a military chaplain. Reflecting on this time, he wrote in a letter:
‘It seemed as though the war would destroy the last remnants of faith and ancestral piety. Bless the Lord that this did not happen. War is and remains the greatest evil. He who has understood the meaning of Christ and his Gospel of human and Christian brotherhood can never detest it enough. It would be naïve to expect very much from war as a contribution towards the moral progress of our people.
‘Yet it was a great test of the worth of peoples, and beside the brutality and wretchedness some of us endured, it is fair to dwell upon the consoling episodes that gave lie to our pessimism. Oh! the long vigils among the bunks of our dear and brave soldiers, spent in hearing confessions and preparing them to receive the bread of the strong in the morning! The hymns to Mary rose up around simple, improvised altars; the sublime solemnity of the Mass celebrated in the fields; the hospital feast-days, especially Christmas, Easter and the month of May, where the poetry of one’s own village church flourished again, and the tender memories of distant wives and mothers mingled with the anxious hope for an end to harsh sacrifice!’
A global mission; an ongoing mission
The Mill Hill Missionaries, who partner with Missio in England and Wales through the Red Box, have also historically been involved in military chaplaincy. In various places in the world, their first contact with mission territories was as military chaplains. This was the case in Afghanistan, where the Holy See instructed Mill Hill Missionaries to provide military chaplains for the third Afghan War.
But after wars finish, those same chaplains are often the missionaries who stay behind, to rebuild, to tend the sick, care for orphans, and ignite God’s love among people who have lost so much. And today, in so many conflict zones around the world, brave Priests and Sisters continue to put their own safety on the line to serve and care for all who are caught in the cruelty of conflict.
We will remember them
In November we remember and pray for all those who have served in wartime, and lost their lives to preserve freedom and fight tyranny.
May we always reach out to those who have lost loved ones in times of war and conflict, and build a better future with reconciliation and love.
We pray that we will honour the sacrifice of the women and men who have died, by building a peaceful world which safeguards all people as precious children of God.
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them’.
Take a moment in stillness to pray with our reflection film, which you can find with our online Book of Remembrance here>>