Gail Robinson, a former Passionist priest, served as an Army Chaplain in Korea and Viet Nam. The following is an excerpt from an article he wrote in 1974 and published in the Passionist Orbit Newsletter:
A Passionist in the Military
“Close to the agonizing and suffering Christ”
“Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Coming from a military chaplain, these may be fighting words for many Americans. Or they may provoke the hearers to laughter. The military has such a distorted image in the minds of many that they cannot imagine how a military chaplain can be promoting peace. This confusion stems especially from the unfortunate conflict in Southeast Asia and our country’s involvement in it.
How does a military chaplain see his role? As a United States Army Chaplain I tell soldiers simply: “I am here because you are here.”
Like every Passionist, I have taken a vow to promote devotion to the suffering Jesus and to lead others also to identify with Him. The way this vow is fulfilled takes a variety of forms, especially in recent times. For years I have been convinced that being a military chaplain is one valid way. My experiences in the Army these past seven years have me more convinced that this is a valid apostolate for a Passionist.
For a chaplain to be any way effective, he must have a rather high degree of sensitivity and empathy. Yes, he also must be morally firm and strong. Especially in combat, he must try to sublimate his own fear and keep his mind free of self-concern. This can keep him close to the agonizing and suffering Christ.
The chaplain must mirror this to his men , not so much by what he says, but rather by what the men are able to see of Christ suffering in their chaplain.
During my own time in combat, prayer was not something formal, nor was it difficult. Many times I felt that my prayer was really a conversation with Christ that came in gasps as I ran to or from a chopper that was under enemy attack, or when I crawled to a bunker during rocket or mortar fire.
Ministry in the military also calls us to counsel and care spiritually for the families of the soldiers. The tours of duty that separate the men from wife and children generate perplexing problems. There is much heartbreak and frustration brought to the chaplain.
As a Passionist priest in the military apostolate, I am grateful. I thank my superiors who gave me permission and their blessing. I thank my Passionist brothers and their friends for their support with letters, and especially their Masses and prayers.