military year of faith
U.S. Navy Lt. William Dorwart, a chaplain on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, celebrates Mass in San Diego in this 2010 photo. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Benjamin C. Jernigan

Approximately 1.5 million men and women serve in the Armed Forces of the United States and, like in the general population, about 25 percent are Catholics. To serve their spiritual needs, the Archdiocese for the Military Services has 260 active-duty chaplains in 250 military installations around the world. 

In the Year of Faith, the archdiocese has a special emphasis on outreach to 18- to 26-year-olds. 

“There are so many young Catholic adults in the military because so many come in right after college,” said Mark Moitoza, vice chancellor for evangelization. “But we are also doing a lot for those who are the (older) leaders not only in the military, but also in their Catholic faith communities. They are mentoring the future leaders in fostering the values and traditions of the military, and also in how to bring the Catholic faith into their lives.”

Tech resources

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Maintaining a faith community is important to armed forces who are away from home, he added. “They are looking for a way to find a home in their Catholic faith,” he said. 

Modern technology makes it easier. In an era when soldiers can Skype home or use computers, smart phones and other electronics for communication and information, Year of Faith resources are a click away. 

For individuals, the Military Download of the Month Club offers nine free MP3 Catholic presentations from Lighthouse Catholic Media. Frontline Faith provides MP3 players loaded with more than seven hours of content to U.S. troops. 

For groups, Word on Fire Ministries donated to military installations a 10-part film series, “Catholicism: a Journey to the Heart of the Faith,” which offers reflection sheets specifically for the military. Group leaders also have access to Young Adult Ministry in a Box, a toolkit for planning resources, mentoring, outreach initiatives and a weekly program idea. 

Pastoral care

Two more resources are being developed. One is a Year of Faith section on the military archdiocese’s website that has prayers, pilgrimages and news. The other is a free application that accesses Vatican II documents and Catechism of the Catholic Church sections relevant to the Church’s pastoral concerns for military personnel. 

“One of the challenges and the responsibilities of Catholics in military chapels and in all our parishes around our country is how we welcome home the wounded warriors, those who have been spiritually, psychologically or spiritually wounded,” Moitoza said. “The Catechism (No. 2310) is specific about those who are sworn to serve their country. They are servants of the security and freedom of nations. It states that they ‘truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.’ They really do have a vocation.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Vets' Needs
The demographics have changed in the 153 Veterans Administration Medical Centers. 
 
“Prior to the Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan, we were dealing for the most part with World War II and Korean War veterans and folks from the Vietnam War,” said Bishop Richard B. Higgins, special vicar for Veterans Affairs in the Archdiocese for the Military Services, and an Air Force chaplain from 1994 to 2004. “It was clearly that population. Then all of a sudden we are dealing with young people — even 19-year-olds — who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries and injuries caused by IEDs — injuries that we weren’t accustomed to.”
 
What hasn’t changed is the need for pastoral care. Priests at the VA centers work on teams with physicians, psychiatrists and nurses to plan patient care. Sometimes all a veteran wants from a chaplain is his presence.
 
The Year of Faith programs at the VA centers depend on what the chaplains do with the materials provided by the local dioceses or from the military archdiocese.
 
But what the veterans always need, the bishop said, are prayers and thanksgiving.