Homelessness Among Veterans Draws Attention of Catholic Chaplains in VA Medical Centers

Annual conference focuses on “Spiritual Injuries Contributing to Homelessness”

Catholic chaplains from VA Medical Centers at annual conference Nov. 16, 2012 in Mundelein, Ill.

Catholic chaplains from VA Medical Centers at annual conference Nov. 16, 2012 in Mundelein, Ill.

MUNDELEIN, ILLINOIS—Catholic priests serving as chaplains in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers have a fresh outlook on how to deal with a major problem confronting veterans in the United States armed forces—homelessness—following a series of presentations on this issue at their annual conference. The National Conference of Veterans Affairs Catholic Chaplains (NCVACC) held assembly Nov. 12-16 in Mundelein, Ill. at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake Conference Center under the theme, “The Spiritual Injuries Contributing to Homelessness.” The conference was attended by 90 priests endorsed by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) and His Excellency, the Most Reverend Richard B. Higgins, AMS Episcopal Vicar for Veterans Affairs.

Among speakers delivering a presentation, Father Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President for Mission and Catholic Identity and Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, focused on the spirituality of homelessness. Referencing St. Augustine’s famous insight that “our heart is restless until it rests in you (God),” Father Ciorra advised chaplains that “We need to get in touch with our own spiritual, emotional and psychological homelessness” in order to gain compassion, sympathy and empathy for those without a place to call home.

Father Ciorra, who holds graduate degrees in psychology, history and pastoral theology, traced Catholic social justice teaching on homelessness to the reign of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). He said ministers of the Church have a moral obligation to address and work to improve the social structures—or commonly accepted rules, institutions and practices—that give rise to homelessness. By the same token, he said, ministers have much spiritually to learn from the homeless, whose status as poor and outcast—the “anaweim”—gives them a special, exalted place in Christian tradition. Free of material attachments, “They can teach us how to pray in new and deeper ways,” Father Ciorra observed.

The NCVACC was founded in 1985 to provide mutual support for members working in the Chaplain Service of the Department of Veteran Affairs; a forum for the training, study, and development of all phases of Veterans Affairs Pastoral Care; a method of Chaplain certification by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Commission on Certification and Accreditation; and serve as a corporate body for contact and communication with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Episcopal Advisor and the AMS. The President of the NCVACC is Msgr. James Burnett of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, Chief Chaplain at Edward Hines VA Medical Center in Chicago.

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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.