Archdiocese sees increase in young men on track to become military chaplains; prays for more vocations to relieve shortage
WASHINGTON, D.C.—This week, the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS), along with the rest of the Catholic Church in the United States, celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW). The annual event earmarks a time for parishes to consider, through prayer and education, their role in promoting the role of priests, deacons and religious order brothers and sisters to Catholics deciding on their future.
The January 13-19 observance is of particular interest to the AMS, which is working diligently to overcome a shortage of Catholic priests serving as chaplains in the U.S. military. The shortage comes as aging chaplains reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since the time of 9/11, the active-duty roster has shrunk from more than 400 to fewer than 260. Currently, 25% of the U.S. military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps.
To fill this shortage, the AMS Office of Vocations, in cooperation with local bishops and religious communities, is inviting more and more young men to discern whether the Holy Spirit is calling them to pursue priestly vocations and eventual chaplaincy in the military. This outreach has yielded a bountiful harvest over the past four years. The number of seminarians, deacons and priests enrolled in the “ Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program,” created to support military chaplain vocations through partner dioceses, has risen from seven in 2008 to 48 this year. As many as five are expected to enter the program in the fall, and the AMS is processing applications of nine others.
Church studies show the military itself is the largest single source of U.S. priestly vocations. According to an annual Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood by the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, approximately one out of every ten newly ordained priests once served in the armed forces. In spite of this rich pool of priestly candidates, however, more are needed to commit to service as military chaplains, according to Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., AMS Director of Vocations.
Father Abbott said:
“This week, as the Church celebrates National Vocation Awareness Week, the AMS wishes to make its presence known in a meaningful way to young men who may feel called to the priesthood, and a vocation within a vocation to military chaplaincy, particularly but not exclusively to those that are active duty or prior-service. To them, I ask: is the Lord calling you to bring the healing presence of the Gospel and sacraments to the men and women who serve our Nation?
“Whether it be celebrating the anointing of the sick for a wounded warrior, hearing frontline confessions or counseling veterans with post traumatic stress, Catholic military chaplains really have two vocations—one to the priesthood, the other for the defense of our Nation and sacramental care for our warriors and their families. All of this and more make concrete the realization of our First Amendment right—the free exercise of religion.
“Both callings share the same seed and harvest of the spirit: honor, valor, discipline, commitment to a higher calling, service to others, and real sacrifice—a willingness to lay down your life, take up your cross and follow Christ. I invite you to take a step forward in your own discernment journey and contact the AMS Office of Vocations.”
Young men interested in discerning a priestly vocation, and this vocation within a vocation in the U.S. military can find more information at www.milarch.org/vocations, or may contact Father Abbott by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 as the only Catholic jurisdiction responsible for endorsing and granting faculties for priests to serve as chaplains in the U.S. military and VA Medical Centers.
AMS-endorsed priests serve at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, making the AMS the nation’s only global archdiocese. AMS-endorsed chaplains also serve at 153 VA Medical Centers throughout the U.S.
The AMS service population also includes American Catholic civilians working for the federal government in 134 countries, but currently, due to limited resources, the AMS cannot adequately serve this population.
Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.