As war in Iraq was approaching, military chaplains noticed an increase in religious concerns among soldiers.
For instance, between the time the 82nd Airborne arrived in Kuwait in mid-February and mid-March, 104 paratroopers were baptized — into the water of the Persian Gulf — reported military chaplains. Similarly, attendance at Catholic Mass has been “up 150 percent to 200 percent” from what it was at home base, according to an article by Aamer Madhani in the Chicago Tribune (March 21).
“Like many of the Iraqi people, the soldiers are turning to prayer to deal with the fear of death and of the unknown”, writes Ann Scott Tyson in the Christian Science Monitor (March 20). But there is a shortage of chaplains, partly due to high requirements: a master of divinity degree, ordination by a Church, physical fitness — and a 20-year commitment.
Chaplain shortage is reported to be especially critical for Roman Catholics. “About 25 percent of the Army is composed of Roman Catholics, with only about 107 priests on active duty”, reports Rudolph Bush in the Chicago Tribune (March 26). There should be 300 to 350 Roman Catholic chaplains in order to reflect the religious affiliations of the soldiers. A consequence of the current situation is that there are Roman Catholic soldiers who don’t have opportunity for confession or communion.
Bishops, however, face a shortage of priests in parishes and are not very eager to see them going to the Army. In order to solve the problem, the Army has begun to sponsor soldiers and sailors who want to become priests and provides help if they are willing to return after ordination. The possibility to serve as a Catholic chaplain on a short-term basis (three to five years) has also been suggested.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer