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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Called to Serve
U. S. A. | NEWS | NEWS
An interview with US Army chaplain Fr. Anselmo Hernandez, LC


Fr. Anselmo Hernandez, LC is from Brooklyn, NY. He was ordained in Rome on January 2, 2001, and entered the US Army as a chaplain in 2008. He was deployed to Iraq in 2009, returned in 2011, and is now stationed in Ft. Eustis, VA, awaiting his next deployment.

What brought the idea of being a military chaplain to your mind and what motivated you to go through with it?

Let´s start from the beginning. I entered the US Army in June of 2008.  The process had started almost a year before, while I was in Rome studying for my licentiate in Moral Theology. I spoke to the Military Archbishop at the time, who was a friend of mine (he was the rector of the North American College in Rome while I was a philosopher and I spent a bit of time there visiting with friends I had been in the seminary with in Brooklyn). He told me that he needed help. At that same time I had been receiving e-mails from soldiers telling me how they had not seen a priest in 6 month - some even for a year while deployed to the war zone.

I spoke to Fr. Álvaro Corcuera and he invited me to pray about it and see what God was asking of me. After a few months, while having a snack during the semester exams, Fr. Alvaro walked up to me and whispered in my ear, say yes. This confirmed what I felt as well, and I started the paperwork to enter the military (as well as an exercise program so as to be ready).

So what brought me to do this?  I would say it is what has always moved us to do what we do as
Legionaries and Regnum Christi members: seeing the needs of the Kingdom and hearing God´s voice calling us to action. God´s will has always been the "north" that guides what I try to do and I know that if he is the one who is asking this of me, then it is the best thing for me. That way, in the end it’s ‘his problem’: You called me to this?  I will give it my all…now you send the graces needed!

What are your duties as a military chaplain?

My "job" is to care for the spiritual needs of my troops (all of them; not only the Catholics) and their families, to ensure the free practice of their faith, and to serve as the advisor to the Commander in elements of religion, morale, etc.  How do I do these things?  I know all my troops and their families and I try to ensure that they not only live out their faith (and again, not only Catholics), but that they deepen in knowledge of their faith, as well as allowing them to know me and my faith. As a priest, I care for the Catholic, but I also provide coverage for those who are not Catholic but would like to attend their services according to their faith group – I try to find Protestant chaplains to hold services for my Protestant troops, Rabbis to attend to my Jewish troops, etc. I put together retreats and Bible study groups for my troops, celebrate Mass, hold adoration, and offer confession, religious education, spiritual direction, etc. I do all the things that other priests do, and I also go out to the field with my troops, train with them, and go to war with them (without carrying a weapon, of course). The idea is to bring God to soldiers (and their families), and soldiers to God. 

What’s a normal day in the life of a US Army chaplain?

Usually the day for me starts at around 0430 (4:30am), when I get up and do my morning prayers and meditation. Then at 0630 I do PT (Physical Training) with my troops. By 0800 I am praying the Breviary
so as to be at the Battalion Headquarters by 0900.  At this time I send out an e-mail blast to my troops with the "thought of the day," which is a brief meditation for them to reflect on during the day. Once that is out, I head on over to the Commander to check up on him and talk about the troops and activities that are pending. Once that has been taken care of, it is time to head out to where the troops are and spend time with them wherever they are, giving class, spiritual direction, Mass, and confessions. The day normally ends around 2200 when I get home to grab a bite to eat, finish up any work to be done on the computer, and head to bed around 2300 after my night prayers.

How do you find that your mission as a military chaplain fulfills your priestly mission? 

I get to serve, as our Chaplaincy crest says, for God and Country. I get to take Christ to the hardest realities we can face. I feel what the troops feel, live what they live, go through the same difficulties they do; and through me, so does Christ. How can you not be fulfilled as a priest when you are there in a war zone and are able to baptize over 60 soldiers, confirm just as many, give First Communion to over a hundred, hold adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and see the little chapel full of soldiers - with their weapons, and yet knowing that their true fire power is in their strong prayer life. What keeps me going is the prayers of my soldiers and the knowledge that if this is what Christ is asking, then he will give the necessary graces to us to reach the end and say, "mission complete."  Every Mass, every confession, every anointing, every blessing, every heart open to God´s grace makes it worthwhile.






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