Answers call to help fill acute shortage of Catholic military chaplains
His Eminence, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien (left) with Angel Marrero at diaconal ordination May 12, 2012 in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The Rev. Mr. Angel Marrero, a native of Acrecibo, Puerto Rico and veteran of the United States Army, was ordained a transitional Catholic Deacon on Saturday, May 12, 2012 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. The ordination marks the next-to-last step in Deacon Marrero’s formational journey toward ordination as a Catholic priest and potential service as an active-duty Catholic Army Chaplain endorsed by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS).
The ordination was celebrated through the laying of hands and invocation of the Holy Spirit by His Eminence, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, Apostolic Administrator of Baltimore and Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
Rev. Mr. Marrero said:
“I am very happy for this opportunity to serve the people of God, particularly those in the U.S. military. The men and women who defend our nation have a special need to know the Lord’s presence, and I am grateful that Jesus Christ has called me to serve that purpose.”
Rev. Mr. Marrero, 45, is the newest prospective military chaplain to receive diaconal ordination through the Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program, a longstanding partnership between the AMS and cooperating U.S. dioceses and religious communities. The program was created to fill a growing shortage of Catholic priests both in the U.S. military and throughout the Church by supporting vocations drawn largely from the armed forces.
The shortage comes as more and more chaplains reach the military’s mandatory retirement age of 62 faster than they can be replaced. The number of active-duty chaplains has dwindled from more than 400 in 2001 to 261 today. While Catholics make up about 25% of the U.S. armed forces, Catholic priests currently account for only 8% of military chaplains.
The Seminarian Co-Sponsorship Program targets the military because it has proven to be a rich pool of priestly vocations. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University conducts an annual survey of newly ordained priests in the U.S. It finds that nearly 10% have previous military experience and about 20% come from military families, making the AMS the largest single source of American priestly vocations.
Father Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv., AMS Director of Vocations, said that should come as no surprise. He said:
“No one knows better than a Soldier, an Airman, a Sailor or a Marine the meaning of service to a greater good, and how great the cost. Rev. Mr. Angel Marrero, a former active-duty Soldier and veteran of Desert Storm, is a living example.”
Co-sponsorship means that a diocesan bishop or religious superior agrees to accept a prospective chaplain in his diocese or religious community as a seminarian, and that the seminarian will participate in the chaplain candidacy program of one of the three branches of the armed forces. The AMS and the seminarian’s home diocese or religious community split the cost of his five-year, $25,000-per-year education in half, each paying 50% of tuition, room and board and other expenses, or about $12,500 a year.
Once the new priest is ordained, the bishop or religious superior typically agrees to release him for military service after at least three years of pastoral experience in his diocese or community. When the priest leaves the military, he returns to the diocese or community for further pastoral work. So both the AMS and the priest’s home diocese or religious community benefit from his ministry.
Deacon Marrero is scheduled to be ordained a priest on June 5, 2013 in his home Archdiocese of Baltimore. He will be assigned to at least three years of pastoral service there before he is offered the option of returning to the Army as a Chaplain with AMS endorsement.
Father Abbott said Rev. Mr. Marrero is among 40 seminarians, transitional deacons and priests now committed to become chaplains under the Co-Sponsorship Program, up from 32 in August, 23 last academic year, 12 in 2009-10, and seven at one point in 2008-09; and the AMS is currently processing the applications of 18 others.
Father Abbott said:
“This dramatic growth in young Catholic servicemen committing themselves to serve as priest-chaplains is really an amazing blessing. It is an indication that the Holy Spirit is working not only throughout the Church in general, but also within the armed forces to recruit vocations at a time of great need.”
The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 to provide the Catholic Church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to Catholics serving in the U.S. armed forces, enrolled in U.S. military academies, undergoing treatment in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers, working for the U.S. Government in civilian jobs outside of the country, and their families.
As the nation’s only archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the AMS endorses priests for on-site ministry at more than 350 locations throughout the country and around the world. Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to serve 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.