The few, the faithful, the chaplains

by Joe Bollig

joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — There are some things they don’t teach you in seminary — like how to hang on to a thundering blackhawk helicopter, or keep your footing on the deck of a pitching aircraft carrier.

A small group of archdiocesan pastors know all about it, because they are now, or have been, military chaplains. On Nov. 11, they will be remembered not only for their service, but their ministry.

According to an informal count, there are approximately 13 priests, active or retired, who have either served in the military before ordination or became chaplains after ordination.

Father Peter Jaramillo, SSA, has served as both a battalion and a brigade chaplain with the Kansas Army National Guard for 16 years. Currently, he holds the rank of lieutenant colonel and is now the brigade chaplain and deputy state chaplain for the Kansas Army National Guard.

Father Peter was a priest for 10 years before joining the guard. In 2005 and 2006, he was deployed to Iraq, where he hopscotched through Baghdad and to various Forward Operating bases to provide spiritual support to Catholic and non-Catholic soldiers.

“It reaffirmed my vocation as a priest by giving me tremendous opportunities to practice my Catholic priesthood in an environment that was pluralistic and multicultural,” said Father Peter.

It was very challenging to minister to soldiers in a war zone, not all of whom were Catholic, he said. Chaplains, in fact, serve not only soldiers of all faiths, but those with none at all.

“You’re also challenged as a Catholic priest to reach out to nonreligious and non-Christians, and particularly those of Islamic backgrounds and Jewish backgrounds,” he said. “You have to be able to understand that the same God calls us to demonstrate spiritual support, and a sense of moral concern and support, as well as compassion.”

Father Ron Livojevich, now retired, became a military chaplain four years after he was ordained. He spent time in the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, and the Navy. While in the Navy, he served at overseas bases and aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy.

“What I saw was the validity of all faiths,” he said. “We [chaplains] ministered in a pluralistic environment. And by seeing different faiths, you certainly appreciate who you are, but also appreciate the diversity of Christianity and the contributions of other faiths, such as Judaism and Islam.”

Interacting with persons of other faiths made him appreciate his own Catholic faith even more, and how a priest can minister to Catholics and non-Catholics.

“I learned that you can be a priest not only liturgically and speak to those of your own faith, but also to people of different faiths or no faith,” Father Livojevich said. “They still need pastoral care, no matter where they come from.”

He also learned that the chaplain does an invaluable service.

“We’re a combat multiplier,” said Father Livojevich. “If we keep the troops aware of their faith, and encourage them to practice their faith and live a moral life, they’ll be better soldiers and sailors.”

The most important work a chaplain can do is to simply be present to those he serves.

“being there as a sign of God’s care and love for people,” he said. “I think this is one of the biggest things we do as chaplains.”

Father Anthony Williams, now pas- tor of St. Joseph Parish in Olpe and St. Mary Parish in Hartford, was in the U.S. Air Force when he heard the call first to become a Catholic, and then to become a Catholic priest.

“Of all my military experiences, the two assignments that have had the greatest impact on my priestly vocation are my temporary duty assignment to Korat Royal Thai Air base, Thailand, and my permanent assignment to Clark Air base, Philippines, during 1974,” said Father Williams.

At Clark, Father Williams had an enthusiastic, committed Catholic as a roommate, and Father Anthony began to share his enthusiasm. And while at Korat, he began to study the Catholic faith and accompanied a nun on her visits to take the Eucharist to lepers. It was at Korat he was baptized a Catholic at the base chapel. After seminary and ordination, he reentered the Air Force. In his role as an Air Force chaplain, Father Williams travelled all over the world. Some duty involved living in uncomfortable or unconventional places. “As a Catholic chaplain, the most important moments were celebrating the Mass, hearing confessions, providing pastoral counseling, visiting the hospitalized, and — unfortunately — accompanying a commander on a death notification call,” said Father Williams. “Although many of these moments involved administering the sacraments,” he continued, “providing counseling and a ministry of presence to other service personnel became a very important part of base ministry — responding with care and concern for the general well-being of all members of the military.”

Father James Ludwikoski, pastor of Good Shepherd in Shawnee, served as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain in 1980, and then as an active duty chaplain from 1981 to 2009. He served all over the world, including the Middle East.

“I learned the great need and appreciation by our soldiers and their families for the sacraments,” said Father Ludwikoski. “I learned their thankfulness to the various bishops who so generously released their priests to serve in the military. I learned how extremely important it is to have a Catholic presence and Eucharist/penance for soldiers of all services in deployed areas.”

The faith of military service people is tested in various ways, and includes separation from family, uncertainty, long hours and training schedules, and other unique challenges.

“The cost of freedom is high,” said Father Ludwikoski. “Emotional, physical, psychic and spiritual turmoil is a constant in the lives of military families and the individual soldier. They endure this turmoil because of their great patriotism, their love of our country, and their desire for true freedom for their families and all of us.”

Father Ludwikoski and other chaplains shared the burdens of their military flock.

“I learned the degree that I could push myself, during long hours of battle-related situations, whether in the senior staff war room, in the field with the troops, doing one-minute counseling with soldiers or contractors, or celebrating Sunday Mass,” said Father Ludwikoski. “I was reinforced in the reality that our faith is international — serving Korean, british, Canadian, Australian, French and other troops at various locations. I learned repeatedly that where I was, as a priest, there the church was.”

One of the greatest concerns military chaplains have is that there are too few priests in the military. According to Father Livojevich, there are half as many Navy chaplains now as when he was in the service.

“There are too few Catholic priests in the military, particularly the Army,” said Father Peter. “We’re in such great need. I believe the statistics show that the Army has the largest number of Catholic military personnel and the smallest number of chaplains. Too few are responding to the great need. My pitch is: If there’s a priest in good health and good cheer willing to serve in the Army, it is a great experience.”

Father Ludwikoski urged that all Catholics offer their support in prayer.

“Please pray daily for all military personnel, especially those in harm’s way,” he said. “As our Holy Father has requested, and in the belief that prayer is vital, raise up your hands and hearts each day for peace in our world, especially in the Middle East.”

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