I would like to begin by setting up where in the world we are so that you would know from what perspective you would start in understanding the “Why” of our existence. Simply saying, where we are? From those who have seen or have encountered a priest in uniform, this idea will always crop up for this will point you to where you could meet some of us. But, basically, I will start to state here our home. Canonically, our jurisdiction is personal in nature. Wherever our men and women are, we are there too. They are our direct clients, our direct parishioners. Here in the Philippine Archipelago, from North to South, you can easily find our homes where our military installations, bases and reservations can be found. And sometimes, you can find them sent to foreign missions, joining the peace keeping troops in Golan heights, East Timor, and in Libya and make it their abode, their home in foreign lands.
A military priest, a gentleman and an officer, so fondly called “Father”, “Chaplain” or “Imam” resides here in this home. This home is their personal abode with their parishioners. He resides in what we call “Chapel” where the name “Chaplain” was taken from. The chaplain indeed takes care of the Chapel. He is the care taker. But over and above this calling is not merely focused on chapel or mosque (Islam House of Prayer) management but bigger than that it is to take good care of the souls of our soldiers and their dependents. They journey as chaplains with the soldiers wherever they are. It is their prerogative and even categorical imperative to cruise with them and to keep on track with them when being challenged by times and circumstances. On foot, they walk with soldiers; on board, they sail with them; on air, they fly with them.
In saving souls, detachment is of primary importance. They have to leave the comfort of their “homes” so as to be in solidarity with the struggles of their soldiers. As much as possible, to be with them wherever they are so as to take care of the moral and spiritual life of their soldiers under their watchful care. What they wear when in mission is what their service represents. When assigned to the Philippine Army, they use the authorized uniform of the Army; when with the Philippine Navy, the service uniform of the Navy; and when assigned in the Philippine Air Force, the uniform of the Air Force. Air, water, and ground combat and in this combat sometimes they are caught in lines of dangers. But they are happy to serve. That is their calling.
Their calling is precisely defined in the way they share in the difficulties of their soldiers and the struggles of their soldiers’ families. To be assigned in far flung localities is not any more an issue it is an order to follow. Chaplains like soldiers move from one place to another. They are like missionaries who practice obedience “par excellence”. They have many human superiors, their military seniors in the service, including the Ecclesiastical figures represented by the Military Ordinary. They have to obey orders, follow this and follow that. But that gives more color to their lives. It makes them feel more connected to Christ’s mission. Like “The Son of Man who has nowhere to lay his head”, the Chaplains when visiting troops will feel likely or experience the same thing for sometimes the troops they visit just spend resting time under the shade of the tree or where they may have found a covered place to lay their backs and recline. It is in this way and it is comforting to know that the chaplain’s presence is felt. That is the “Joy of the Gospel” for them: to be with their flocks and lead them to the Pasteur of Hope. How difficult it may seem, but that is just part and parcel of their job as priest in uniform. Where they can find men and women in uniform there is their “homes”. It is not anymore about domicile when we talk about residences, it is about a home where you meet directly your parishioners for you consider them your homes. This is very clear to the chaplains.
TO NURTURE THE LIVING, TO CARE FOR THE SICK, AND TO HONOR THE DEAD is the three-fold ministry one can easily spot when looking at a chaplain from what he does and from what the chaplain exercises. It is what their religious counterparts do in their community. But what makes them special is their journey into the world of their direct clients and parishioners. The role the ever caring mother does to her children, from womb to tomb, from the mystery of joy to the glorious mystery of every man and woman.
How they nurture the living? Chaplains provide opportunities for religious expressions and traditions. They see to it that the faith of each soldier is taken cared with. Regardless of their religious affiliations, the chaplain sees to it that they comply with their church’s requirement or whatever it is that they believe in order to nurture their moral and spiritual life. To provide opportunities for the religious expressions and moral growth of the AFP personnel and their families in order to assist effectively in the accomplishment of the over-all mission of the AFP is their standing order par excellence. It defines the kind of work they will perform and so to accomplish its mission, the Chaplain Service performs the following services:
- Worship and Religious Services – Chaplains of different religious persuasions provide worship and religious services to members of their distinct churches. It is their duty that opportunities for spiritual communion with God/Allah is well addressed and observed with passion and commitment.
- Pastoral Care and Ministrations – they assist the faithful/believer in difficult moments as a shepherd taking good care with their respective flock and minister to their sacramental and spiritual needs and comforts as a father consoles his children.
- Religious and Moral Education – they provide learning tools and insights to help augment knowledge of personnel as regards religious conformities and doctrines and they teach standards for moral and ethical living and educate them so as to achieve high level of satisfaction in achieving a world class image worthy of praise and emulation, source of national pride.
- Guidance and Counseling – when AFP personnel is in a cloud of doubt or in state of “being-not well” or struggling and find life in their most difficult times, the chaplain will always be there ready to assist and extend professional help as counselors and “Guidon” of Faith and Morals; they conduct counseling, mentoring and coaching to needy AFP clientele/personnel.
- Social and Cultural Leadership – to show how things are done “in and with grace”, chaplains lead people to celebration. They help energize people when it is time for socials and when a culture has to be promoted they provide opportunities to live it according to the practices, beliefs and traditions without sacrificing the spirit that is contained in the celebrations. They lead people to discover the peculiarities of this culture that is present in the organization. Composed of different cultures with peculiar observances, the AFP through the chaplains maximize capabilities in promoting awareness for said cultural differences. When it is urgent, timely and effective to build up people through celebrations, chaplains lead the way.
How they show care for the sick?
Through Pastoral Care Program, the chaplain sees to it that he is able to visit wounded and dying military personnel whether wounded in action or have met accidents or maybe perhaps hospitalized due to severe sickness. It is his categorical imperative or mandate to provide opportunities to uplift the morale and welfare of the soldiers confined in the hospitals. He provides room for counseling and extend sacramental services of the church and gives hope against hope when things are getting tough and difficult to bear. The pastoral care program also does not limit its support to the military personnel confined but also to the immediate relatives thereat who is pained so much looking after the needs of their beloved soldiers. The chaplains also provide words of comfort and fraternal presence to appease and console them in their struggles.
How they honor the dead?
In cooperation and coordination, with the military institutions, the Chaplains provide final rites and prayer services through Funeral mass and Necrological service often requested and performed to show and give honor to a fallen great soldier who serves the country with great courage and patriotic heart worthy of praise. The Chaplain assists in the burial rite until the remains are buried in the ground. In masses and prayers, they are remembered and prayed. Special occasions like heroes day and All Souls and all Saints day, our brave and fallen soldiers are given due honor and praise.
Chaplains have ranks and serial numbers given by the government. That makes them unique in the organization. It is in the Chaplain Service when one can say.“ Apparently, there is no separation of the Church and the State” and true enough, the Chaplains are bound to serve both the church and the government. As “men of cloth”, as priest and “an officer and a gentleman”, as soldier-priest, chaplains are caught within the grounds of the “ordinary and extra-ordinary”, they are “servant-leaders” serving the Church and serving the government at the same time. Two Superiors: Ecllesiastical/Religious Leaders and the Military Hierarchy, the church and the state.
“Give to Ceasar, what is due to him; and Give to God, what is due to HIM.” To satisfy both demand, the chaplains contribute to the church what is for HER and pay taxes to the government. This is something unique to the military chaplaincy. Priest or religious leaders who are not serving the Military Institutions are exempted from paying taxes. Whereas, the Chaplains are obliged to pay taxes, bigger taxes though from what they received as salary to the government. But that does not matter much for they continue to serve both the interest of God and of the State. If it is in this way to promote God to them the humble way as chaplains so be it; and to extend the services of the government to the needy and reach them out, the chaplains, in their capacities as “Ranked” personalities would always be a welcome gesture and development.
Chaplains are trained soldiers. They undergo schoolings and military trainings. Discipline and Courtesy and Professionalism are some of the things that are taught to them. Rigorous trainings, regimented, and hard ones are encountered by any chaplain who desire to serve the government. In the trainings, there are no special treatments. You will be treated as an ordinary candidate for military life and only those who have withstand the challenge of soldiery, those who have developed special character, those who have learned to be stable even under pressures survive and complete the course. Those who have left behind civilian character and its corresponding antiques become an officer and a gentleman in this so unique ministry.
For now, the Catholic chaplains have their “seed bed” in the Domus Josephi Formation House located at the Villamor Air Base, New Port, MM. Seminarians are now being trained for their future ministry to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).The Formation house is under the supervision of the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines (MOP), headed by the Military Bishop, one of the endorsing agency for the AFP Chaplain Service.
For the benefit of the Non-Catholics, the AFP Chaplain Service is also welcoming other religious leaders to work in God’s vineyard in the field of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They have to seek also endorsement from their respective religious affiliations. For the Islam Leader (Imam), they must secure an endorsement from their endorsing agency, the UNITED ULAMA COUNCIL DARUL IFTAH (UUCDI); for the Protestants, the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN THE PHILIPPINES (NCCP); and for the Aglipayan Priests, the IGLESIA FILIPINA INDEPENDIENTE (IFI).
And if you are interested to know more about us, the priests in uniform, men of the cloth, a religious leader and an officer, request just come to us in your most convenient time and we will entertain your queries and if you may have decided to join us we will be more willing to assist you. You can find any one of us at the General Headquarters, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City specifically at the Office of the Chief Chaplain Service, Ecumenical Bldg., CGEA, QC.