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Military chaplains and COVID-19

9 July 2020
Fr Raphael Abboud, RAAF Chaplain, baptises a child. Image: Catholic Diocese of the Australian Military Services/Supplied.

 

Three military chaplains reflect on their ministry to members of the Australian Defence Force across Australia.

Fr Damian Styles – Kapooka Military Area, NSW

Within Kapooka resides the Home of the Soldier, the 1st Recruit Training Battalion – the entry point for where soldiers begin their journey through basic training. During the COVID-19 restrictions, there has still been a need to continue to train soldiers.

Kapooka has seen many changes over the last few months in order to conform to policy and direction, but also to achieve the aim of being able to train future soldiers ready. It has seen sacrifice from staff, living longer on base to ensure new arrivals have their two weeks of confirmation that they arrived with no symptoms.

While Chaplains here have been lucky to be able to continue Character Development lessons and other interactions with recruits and duty staff, it is all done with the challenges of social spacing and constant hand washing. An overall theme that arises though is loneliness.

In the fourth century, holy men and women fled to the deserts of Syria and Egypt to live a simple, austere life seeking Good. These early monastics were hermits grouped together. They sought to be ‘alone with God’. The term monk (Latin: monachus) means ‘alone’. These people were not seeking a lonely life, but a life of solitude. COVID-19 has seen restrictions challenging people.

While most people are not called to live as monks, I would argue that we are still called to a spiritual life of seeking God in solitude. So while COVID-19 has come with challenges, it has also opened opportunities to realise what is really important in the life of a person.

As our COVID-19 restrictions continue, see it as an opportunity. Stay positive, test negative.

 

Fr Joel Vergara – Royal Military College, Duntroon, ACT

The last Sunday Mass celebrated publicly at RMC-D Chapel was on 22 March. It was, for me, a struggle to announce to the people that there would be no Mass until further notice. It was disheartening to see the reaction of some parishioners.

Although, I have assured them that I will offer the Eucharist for their intentions in private, I know that there’s really no substitute when we can sing, pray and worship together.

At the end of the Mass, I handed out to the parishioners some guidelines on ‘What should I do if I can’t go to Mass?’ and ‘How do I make a spiritual communion?’ it has some prayers and instructions on keeping Sunday hoy at their home. More importantly, there’s a list of website links where people can subscribe to daily scripture readings and participate in Mass online.

Recently, a parishioner said to me, ‘Father, I really miss going to Mass.’ And I said, ‘I also miss celebrating Mass with people around. I miss the morning and evening coffee with the people after Mass.’

I think this pandemic crisis has awakened a deeper sense of appreciation of how much our community means to us. If there’s one good thing that has come out during our COVID-19 experience, now more than ever, we deeply appreciate the source and summit of our faith – the Eucharist.

This heightened desire and deepest longing for the Eucharist during this difficult time has allowed us, both priests and lay faithful, a renewal of faith and much better understanding of our relationship with one another and with God.

We realise how deeply Eucharistic we all are!

 

Deacon Kevin O’Sullivan – Officer Training School, RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria

Officers’ Training School (OTS) provides Initial Military Training for all Air Force Officers (including those at the Australian Defence Force Academy). OTS commenced the year, not at its normal location at RAAF Base East Sale VIC, but at RAAF Base Wagga NSW, which saw Officer and Enlisted Initial Military Training conducted in the same location.

As Chaplain to OTS, I spent the first three weeks of the five-week course in Wagga. Not long afterwards, training moved back to East Sale – COVID-19 hit!

Despite the challenges, and a few weeks on training pause, OTS has continued training, but now under a compressed training model.

As the only Chaplain, Kevin states that he operates more like an Army Chaplain than an Air Force one.

‘My time is consumed with a strong pastoral focus and having carriage of Military Ethics lessons. I have certainly hit the posting running since arrival in January, and am going strong with two-thirds of the year to go.’

 

Reproduced with permission from the May 2020 (Issue 35) issue of Serving Faithfully, the newsletter of the Catholic Diocese of the Australian Military Services.

 

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