Saturday 21st June 1986
Dear Brothers in the episcopate,
dear lay friends of the International Military Apostolate,
Your simultaneous presence in Rome means that I receive you together. And if your responsibilities and means of action are different, they have the same goal: the spiritual assistance of the military.
Allow me first of all to greet and encourage the lay members of the International Military Apostolate who are holding a conference of their movement in Rome.
Officers, non-commissioned officers, soldiers, committed to the Christian faith, you want to deepen this faith, to shed light on the difficult issues you face, to implement it in everything that makes up your life, and to bear witness to it in your military environment. This is the hallmark of the lay apostolate which is based on the grace and responsibility of baptism, and which the Second Vatican Council particularly encouraged, both the personal apostolate and the apostolate of groups formed in such a way as to better support their members and give a common witness. It was precisely after the Council that you formed your Association, and I am pleased that it has been recognized as an International Catholic Organization, fulfilling the criteria of a Church apostolate in union with the Holy See. The recent Apostolic Constitution Spirituali militum curae, of 21 April, reorganising military Ordinaries, states: “Since all the faithful must collaborate in building up the Body of Christ, the (military) Ordinary and his clergy will ensure that the lay faithful of the Ordinariate, both individually and as a group, play a role of apostolic but also missionary ferment among the military with whom they live”.
Those who serve their countries in the armed forces have special conditions of life, which call for a suitable apostolate, carried out precisely by their fellow believers.
This applies to professional soldiers, whose lifestyle, obligations and special responsibilities in matters of defence require specific understanding and pastoral care. They are fulfilling a commitment that involves risks and needs a thorough reflection on the ethical issues inherent in their profession, which I cannot go into today. Yes, Christian military leaders will be keen to form their conscience on the major problems of the service of peace and security, with lucidity and courage, so as to make the right choices that depend on them and to contribute to enlightening the convictions of the youngest and of public opinion on this point.
I am also thinking of all the other soldiers of the contingent, who are performing their national service for a time: for them, this is like a great crucible, which can be a fatal test for their faith or religious practice, given their uprooting, but also a chance to live with true believers.
Both must be helped to discover the true face of Christ and his Church, and here your witness is crucial. They must find opportunities for spiritual renewal: prayer, Mass, moments of reflection on faith and on all that constitutes their duty of military state, pilgrimages, etc., and it is also your role to organise these with them and for them, in liaison with the military chaplains. Finally, the Christian apostle is also concerned about the fraternal climate to be maintained, about attentive mutual aid for all those who are experiencing material and moral difficulties. Yes, everything that concerns the more human and just organisation of military life, or even that of leisure activities, is of interest to the apostolate as a concrete form of Christian charity.
This presupposes that you yourselves form yourselves for this apostolate by becoming ever more familiar with the Gospel and with all the doctrine of the Church, and by living more united to Christ in prayer and the sacraments, without separating this union with Christ from all that makes up your life (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 4).
In giving you my lively encouragement in this way, I want above all to assure you that you have your place in the Church, that you are loved by God, insofar as you fulfil your duty of state with conscience and to ensure greater peace in the end. John the Baptist welcomed the Roman soldiers on the banks of the Jordan River, without asking them to abandon their trade, but inviting them to carry it out honestly and without unjust treatment. Jesus himself was benevolent to the centurion who came to him with confidence. Saint Francis de Sales stressed that you were capable of a Christian life suited to your profession: “It is a mistake – and even a heresy – to want to banish the devout life from the company of soldiers…, from the household of married people”; by “devout life” he meant union with God in response to his love and the Christian inspiration of all life.
In short, the Church counts a lot on your apostolate: be light, salt and evangelical leaven in the midst of your brothers and sisters!
I now turn for a moment to your Pastors. The Constitution that will come into force on 21 July calls them Military Ordinaries, with a very extensive ordinary and personal episcopal jurisdiction. I therefore greet you with joy, dear Brothers members of the Council of the Central Office for the Pastoral Coordination of Military Ordinaries, coming from Italy, France, Spain, the United States, Chile and the Dominican Republic. The document that you are studying together to help your Brothers from the different Churches to put it into practice underlines the importance that the Church attaches to your office. Your faithful, scattered throughout the world, are very numerous and need an adapted pastoral care which truly reaches them at the heart of their lives and allows them a salutary contact with the Church. In all this, I wish you to rely on zealous military chaplains and generous lay people, whose indispensable role I have just underlined.
To all of you, I give my Apostolic Blessing with all my heart.
Copyright 1986 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana