When you hear “Youth Ministry”, I bet not many people would think of the Armed Forces. But did you know that most soldiers have done their military service and moved back into Civvy Street by the age of 25 years? And as the Armed Forces recruits from right across society, Military Chaplains get a good feel for where our young people are “at” when it comes to their Faith.
All three Armed Forces have Catholic Chaplains working alongside soldiers, sailors and air crew. The Sacraments are celebrated, catechesis is given and help and support are offered to our young people who are doing a very demanding job in the service of their country. No more so than in Afghanistan at the moment.
Father David Smith RAChD, is an Army Chaplain, serving in Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment. He is also the only Catholic Chaplain serving at the UK’s Main Operating Base in Helmand Province, Camp Bastion. As such, there are over 400 Catholic service personnel who come under his spiritual care.
Mass is celebrated every day and three times on a Sunday. There is also a large number of foreign civilian contractors working alongside the military; there are many Catholics among them and their companies provide no chaplaincy provision for them. So Father Smith also looks after them as well.
One of the challenges of Military Chaplaincy is the unusual pastoral situations that arise – and the priest has to think on his feet without the usual support of the Diocesan Curia.
As Father Smith told us:
“I had one young Fijian soldier who, although having been brought up by a Catholic Family and attended Mass every week, nevertheless had not been baptised. This lad was just about to deploy into the Green Zone and, sensibly, was concerned that he should be baptised just in case anything happened to him. I was able to baptise and confirm the young soldier just in time for him to take part in his forthcoming ‘Op’ with a peaceful mind – and armed with the weapons of the Holy Spirit. And yes, he’s a regular at Holy Mass every Sunday he is in Camp.”
Father Smith continued.
“Not long after I arrived in Afghanistan, it became clear that there was a real hunger among the soldiers for catechesis; nothing fancy – just the basics of our Faith. So I decided I had to try and do something about it.
“So, every Friday night at Camp Bastion is Catechism Night! Holy Hour with the Rosary, Catechism and Benediction – and it’s a winner! What with the new translation of the Mass and an almost complete lack of Catholic liturgical materials in the shared Chapel, thank God and his Holy Mother for the Catholic Truth Society!”
“I’m even getting a handful of US Marines coming along to the sessions, there’s a real hunger to know more about the Catholic Religion”.
Like every Catholic Parish back in the UK, the soldiers in Afghanistan are using the new translation of the Roman Missal.
“Many lads have commented on the beautiful language that speaks more immediately to us of our adoration of God. Not one has found it difficult or stilted. The new Altar Missal arrived just in time for Advent Sunday.
“So, thank you CTS for your support to our young soldiers who are serving their country under such difficult circumstances”.
Please keep Father Smith and all our Military Chaplains and their troops in your prayers.
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