Papal Address to Soldiers' Bishops

"There Are Many Men and Women in Uniform Full of Faith in Jesus"

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address Saturday to participants in an International Meeting of Military Ordinariates, held at the Vatican.

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Lord Cardinals,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

Dear Friends,

I am happy to receive you on the occasion of the 6th International Congress of Military Ordinariates and of the third International Course of formation for military chaplains in humanitarian law, promoted jointly by the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. On greeting you all cordially, I thank Cardinal Marc Ouellet for the courteous words he addressed to me in your name.

These initiatives of yours assume particular importance, because they are placed -- as already mentioned -- in the context of the 25th anniversary of the apostolic constitution Spirituali militum curae, promulgated by John Paul II, whose liturgical memorial we celebrate today. Through legislative procedures, an attempt is made to give military ordinariates the possibility to promote an ever more appropriate and better organized pastoral ministry for an important portion of the People of God, namely, military personnel and their families, with their institutions such as barracks, military schools and hospitals. Twenty-five years after the document, it is necessary to affirm that the military ordinariates, in general, have demonstrated their having adopted an increasingly evangelical style, adapting pastoral structures to the urgent needs of the new evangelization.

Ideally, in these days of study, you hope to review the historical and juridical path of military ordinariates, their ecclesial mission, as it is delineated by Spirituali militum curae, separating the common paths for ministry to military personnel and reflecting further on the most important current problems. In expressing my cordial encouragement, I want to call your attention to the need to guarantee to men and women of the armed forces a spiritual assistance that responds to all the needs of a coherent and missionary Christian life. An attempt is made to form Christians to have profound faith, to live their religious practice with conviction, and to be genuine witnesses of Christ in their environments. To achieve this objective, it is necessary that military bishops and chaplains feel that they are responsible for the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments where military personnel and their families are present.

If the challenge of military ordinariates is to evangelize the military world, making possible an encounter with Jesus Christ and the holiness to which all men are called, it seems evident that the priests who are committed in this ministry must have a solid human and spiritual formation, constant attention to their own interior life and, at the same time, be ready to listen and to dialogue, to be able to accept the personal and environmental difficulties of the individuals entrusted to them. These people, in fact, need constant support along their journey of faith, given that the religious dimension has special meaning also in the life of a soldier. The reason for the existence of military ordinariates, that is, spiritual assistance to faithful in the armed forces and the police, makes reference to the solicitude with which the Church has wished to offer military faithful and their families all the means of salvation to give them ordinary pastoral attention and the specific help they need to develop their mission with the style of Christian charity. A Christian’s military life, in fact, is placed in relation to the first and greatest commandment, that of love of God and of neighbor, because the Christian military man is called to realize a synthesis that makes it possible to be a military man out of love, fulfilling the ministerium pacis inter arma.

I am referring, especially, to charity exercised by soldiers who rescue earthquake and flood victims, and also fugitives, putting their courage and competence at the disposal of the weakest. I am thinking of the exercise of charity of soldiers involved in de-activating mines, with the personal danger and risk involved in this, in areas which have been the scene of wars, as well as of soldiers who, in the realm of peace missions, patrol cities and territories so that brothers will not kill one another. There are many men and women in uniform full of faith in Jesus, who love the truth, who want to promote peace and who commit themselves as true disciples of Christ, in the service of their nation, fostering the promotion of the fundamental human rights of nations.

Inserted in this context is the relation between humanitarian law and military chaplains, given that a collaboration between humanitarian organizations and religious leaders develops fruitful energies directed to alleviating the sufferings of conflicts. In the devastating wounds caused by wars and, before the eyes of all, human dignity is often abused and peace destroyed. However, the dynamic of law alone is not enough to re-establish the lost balance: It is necessary to undertake the path of reconciliation and forgiveness. So wrote Blessed John Paul II in the Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, which followed the tragic attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: "True peace therefore is the fruit of justice, that moral virtue and legal guarantee which ensures full respect for rights and responsibilities, and the just distribution of benefits and burdens. But because human justice is always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations and egoism of individuals and groups, it must include and, as it were, be completed by the forgiveness which heals and rebuilds troubled human relations from their foundations" (No. 3).

Dear friends, also in the light of these considerations, the pastoral motivations that are the basis of the identity of the military ordinariate are of great current importance. The work of evangelization in the military world calls for a growing assumption of responsibilities, so that, in this ambit, there is always a new, convinced and joyful proclamation of Jesus Christ, the only hope of life and peace for humanity. In fact, He said: "Without me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). May your particular mission and your ministry and that of your collaborators, presbyters and deacons, foster a general renewal of hearts, the premise of universal peace to which the whole world aspires. With these sentiments I assure you of my prayer and accompany you with my blessing, which I impart from my heart to you and to those entrusted to your pastoral care.

[Translation by ZENIT]