Church in New Zealand highlights importance of military chaplains

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Auckland, New Zealand (Thursday, 11.20.2014, Gaudium Press) The Defence Forces in New Zealand are “desperately short of Catholic chaplains”, and more are needed.

Wellington-based Rev. Fr. Lance Lukin said there are no regular force Catholic chaplains, and there are only three Reserve Force chaplains.

“I can’t get enough Roman Catholic priests, which is the problem, because I desperately need more,” Rev. Lukin said.

Military ordinary, Archbishop John Dew, said that with fewer and fewer priests, it is more and more difficult to “provide for all the chaplaincies we have traditionally serviced”.

Church in New Zealand highlights importance of military chaplains.jpg
Catholic chaplains take the presence of God to
armed force personnel around the world. Here
a priest celebrates Mass for troops in
Afghanistan – Photo US Army

The pastoral care of the military, and the family ministry, usually requires special preparation and cannot be attended only with the dedicated work of the laity. The presence of a priest is most needed to administer the sacraments. Archbishop Dew noted that the distribution of the sacraments is “a significant and necessary part of the chaplaincy”.

Rev. Lukin said countries like Canada and Australia support Catholic military chaplaincy using trained lay people or deacons, and he would like to see that here.

Archbishop Dew also noted that pastoral ministry to those connected with the military is “now mostly done through parishes in the areas around the country where the military are based”.

“As well as making this ministry easier to maintain, it connects a parish community to a military base, which can be isolated from wider family and community networks,” he said.

Information attained through the Official Information Act reveals that of the 11,065 regular and reserve force NZDF personnel on June 30 this year, 1284 (11.6 per cent) are Catholic.

Fr Richard Laurenson from Hamilton said military ordinaries past and present have tried to get priests for military chaplaincy.

But priests don’t “put their hands up” for this “for a number of reasons”, Fr Laurenson said. “One of which is that we are all busy.”

Fr Laurenson is the only Reserve Force Catholic chaplain in the North Island. He is also doing vicar general work in Hamilton diocese, as well as being Fairfield parish priest. He also works as a canon lawyer on the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in New Zealand and has some responsibilities for RCIA.

He also has duties on Hamilton diocese’s Council of Priests and College of Consultors. “My involvement [with the military] in the last few years has been pretty minor,” he said. “The reason I’m still in, frankly, is that there are no priests [in military chaplaincy] in the North Island, apart from me,” he added.

But if he gets called to officiate at a wedding or Baptism, he makes an effort to oblige, even if this means travelling to places like Devonport or Feilding.

With information from NZ Catholic.

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