WHITE POST, VA –This weekend, six men will take a “step closer” to discerning whether God is calling them to be Catholic priests in the United States Military. The six are scheduled to gather for a period of prayer and reflection in the July 5-8 “Step Closer Retreat” at the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center in White Post, Va.
The Step Closer Retreat is sponsored annually by the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), for the most serious of prospective Catholic military chaplains—those showing the strongest inclination toward a priestly vocation as well as the “vocation within a vocation” to serve in the Armed Forces.
The retreat is one way the AMS is working diligently to match worthy candidates with military ministry as priests. Their services are in high demand right now due to a chronic shortage of active-duty Catholic military chaplains resulting from an ongoing trend of attrition: aging chaplains are reaching retirement faster than they can be replaced. Since 9/11, the number of Catholic priests on active duty has declined from more than 400 to about 205. Currently, 25% of the military is Catholic, but Catholic priests make up only 6% of the chaplain corps.
As in recent years, most of those attending this year’s Step Closer Retreat are already in the service. Two are in the Navy; two are in the Air Force; and two are civilians. All have completed the first steps of discernment—hearing the voice of the Lord, engaging with a spiritual director, applying to the AMS with detailed personal background information and attending the “Discernment Retreat,” which the AMS sponsors twice a year for young men taking the first steps toward exploring whether or not the priesthood and military chaplaincy are for them.
“The Step Closer Retreat provides an opportunity for 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 a prayerful experience in the celebration of sacraments, quiet reflection and fraternity, while also being challenged and encouraged through a series of talks, and discussion.”
During the retreat, Father John Kinney, Ch, Lt Col, USAF (Ret), will give talks and spiritual direction. Chaplain recruiters from each branch of the Military will be on hand to discuss chaplain service with the retreatants. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, will take an active part, addressing those gathered, and praying with the six as they contemplate their “step closer” to priesthood and military service.
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.
Meanwhile, the AMS welcomes inquiries from other young men who hear God’s call. Those 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 Logan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (202) 719-3600.