Enter advanced stage in discernment of priesthood and military chaplaincy
LUTZ, FLORIDA –Seventeen men are a “step closer” to discerning whether God is calling them to be Catholic priests and U.S. military chaplains following a weekend of prayer and reflection at the “Step Closer Retreat” sponsored annually by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) for the most serious of prospective chaplains. Among possible candidates for the priesthood and chaplaincy, those selected to attend the Step Closer Retreat, held June 6-9 this year at the Bethany Retreat Center in Lutz, Florida, are considered to show the strongest evidence of a priestly vocation. Nearly all have completed the first steps of discernment—applying to the AMS with detailed personal background information and attending one of the two annual introductory vocation discernment retreats also sponsored by the AMS. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, participates in all of these retreats and commented:
“The efforts on the part of the Archdiocese have produced immense fruits. Almost 10% of those ordained each year for service in the United States once wore a uniform of the Armed Forces of this Country. I am grateful to all of those who make these retreats possible.”
AMS Vocations Director Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., explained:
“The primary purpose of the Step Closer Retreat is to provide an opportunity for those men a little further along the vocation discernment path who are contemplating serving God and His Church as priests, and hopefully military chaplains, to have an experience of prayer in the celebration of sacraments, the quiet of reflection and the joy of fraternity, while also being challenged in thought through a series of conferences provided by a noted speaker, in this case Rev. Msgr. James Dixon, former AMS Vicar General and senior military priest-chaplain.”
Father Abbott noted the 17 taking part in the retreat came from diverse backgrounds, civilian and military, representing all three branches of the armed forces, including six from the Army, seven from the Air Force, and three from the Navy. Among their ranks were combat veterans, officers, junior enlisted men, military pilots, attorneys and a professor of English and communication who has spent the past decade teaching in Japan.
Father Abbott said:
“One of the most inspiring aspects of this retreat is the fact that each of these men represents a phenomenal story of relationship with the Lord, and a journey which often represents the fact that they were invited by a priest-chaplain, family member or friend to consider priesthood. In many cases, they were already considering a priestly vocation, and saw the external perceptions of others that resulted in an invitation as a turning point in their lives. Each and every one of these men is incredibly inspiring!”
It will be up to each candidate to decide, in consultation with his bishop or religious superior, whether to seek permission to apply as a candidate for seminary through the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program, a partnership between the AMS and local dioceses and religious communities around the country to support young men called to pursue priestly vocations, both in their home dioceses or religious communities, and in the military. The AMS is relying on the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program to overcome a chronic shortage of Catholic military chaplains as aging priests reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the active-duty roster has shrunk from more than 400 to fewer than 260. Currently, 25% of the military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 8% of the chaplain corps. Over the past five years, the number of seminarians, deacons and priests enrolled in the Co-Sponsored Seminarian Program has risen from seven (7) in 2008 to more than 50 this year. Some among the 17 attending last week’s Step Closer Retreat could well be added to that growing enrollment.
Young men interested in discerning a priestly vocation and the vocation within a vocation to serve those who serve in the U.S. military can find more information at www.milarch.org/vocations, or may contact Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., AMS Vocations Director, 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.