The archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services says that the military is the “largest single source of vocations to the priesthood” in the United States.
Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Archbishop Timothy Broglio spoke with EWTN News In Depth about coordinating the chaplains who serve the spiritual needs of the men and women in the U.S. military. His comments aired on Friday during an episode dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of U.S. service members.
To serve these people, he said, is a “very enriching and rewarding ministry.”
Archbishop Broglio said he did not originally plan to be in his current post. He had served in the Vatican diplomatic service as the nuncio to the Dominican Republic and the apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, before he was asked to become the next archbishop for the Military Services.
“In a real sense, it came as a surprise to me,” he told EWTN News In Depth host Montse Alvarado, adding that it was “an agreeable surprise.”
“I’ve been very, very moved to serve the men and women and their families that make up the nation's military” as well as “our patients in the hospitals of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he added.
Archbishop Broglio described caring for such “wonderful people” as a “very enriching and rewarding ministry.”
While there is a need for more military chaplains, he emphasized that the military “remains the largest single source of vocations to the priesthood in the United States today.”
Broglio said that the most recent survey of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that “4% of those ordained in the United States in 2021 wore the uniform of one of the services and some 13 came from families where either mom or dad were in the military.”
According to a CARA report released in March on the ordination class of 2021, “Around one in twenty responding ordinands (5%) served in the U.S. Armed Forces, who were all diocesan ordinands.” The report also found that roughly “one in nine responding ordinands (11%) report that one or both parents had a military career in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Archbishop Broglio pointed to another source of hope: the archdiocese has 43 co-sponsored seminarians who are studying for a territorial diocese or religious order, in addition to the Archdiocese for Military Services. Thus, if ordained, the seminarians will have the opportunity to serve those in the military.
Archbishop Broglio admitted that bringing the sacraments to a war zone is a “real challenge,” as priests go so far as to risk their lives in responding to God’s call.
He told the story of Fr. Timothy Vakoc, who was wounded and later died after “the convoy he was in hit a roadside bomb” in Iraq.
“He was on his way to celebrate Mass and minister to his army troops,” the archbishop said of Fr. Vakoc.
These priests are “moved around,” with the help and cooperation of the military. After arriving at a base “they might have an hour to hear confessions, celebrate Mass, offer counseling and then leave again.”
“It’s a tremendous sacrifice,” Archbishop Broglio stressed, “but they do it quite well and they do it quite willingly.”
He noted that these priests serve members of the military regardless of whether or not they are Catholic. This service to non-Catholics is “two prong,” Archbishop Broglio added, including both “counseling” and “providing.”
“Counseling you can offer to anyone,” he said. And a chaplain, “is the only person on a military installation that has a hundred percent confidentiality.”
“If you have someone – a Muslim – you try to get him a lay leader or get him books or whatever it is that that he might need or space so that he can worship,” he explained.
In addition to serving active duty members, the archdiocese also ministers to military veterans.
“We provide Catholic priests for all of the hospitals of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Archbishop Broglio said, with “over 200 priests involved in ministry as hospital chaplains at these medical centers.”
Chaplains have held a place of importance from the beginning of the United States. The archbishop stressed the importance of First Amendment rights and “the freedom that a chaplain has to speak the truth to power.”
The “first thing” George Washington asked for “when he accepted his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army was that there be chaplains,” he stressed.
This Memorial Day, the archbishop recommended praying for the intercession of Saint John of Capistrano, the patron of military chaplains, and Pope Saint John XXIII, who served as a military chaplain during World War I.