Washington D.C., May 29, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).
Two military chaplains are embracing their vocation to serve God by ministering to those who serve their country.
In anticipation of Memorial Day, two U.S. military chaplains spoke with EWTN News In Depth on May 28: Fr. Jim Hinkle, a Navy chaplain, and Fr. David Kirk, an Army chaplain. Correspondent Mark Irons spoke with the priests during a special episode dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of service members.
The two chaplains encouraged more men and priests to follow the call to “serve God’s people in a very unique setting.” Fr. Hinkle stressed the critical role priests play while serving members who work in an intense, high energy environment.
“If there’s one person that I could identify that needs the sacraments,” he said, “it’s going to be a person who’s operating [under] those conditions.”
There is a great need for military chaplains. A total of 191 priests are active duty chaplains in the U.S military, according to the Archdiocese for the Military Services. At the same time, there are 350,000 Catholic service members on active duty worldwide.
That means that there is only one priest for every 1,833 Catholic service members, not including families
Fr. Hinkle said that before he was ordained, he experienced the priest shortage from the other side while serving as a Navy submarine officer.
Sailors working in a submarine “will go without the sacraments for six months at a time unless they’re able to make port visits to go to confession or to go to Mass as well,” he explained.
Pope St. John Paul II established the Archdiocese for the Military Services in 1985 to minister to Catholics in the U.S. military. But the archdiocese warns that the number of chaplains has been declining for years, because chaplains are retiring faster than they can be replaced.
Fr. David Kirk, who serves at Arlington National Cemetery, had a special message for men – and current priests – who are considering joining the military chaplaincy.
“It’s a beautiful way of taking care of God’s families, the service members,” he said.
While Fr. Kirk was ordained in the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, he felt called to serve as an Army chaplain.
“I certainly love what I’m doing,” he said. “I know this is where God wants me.”
“It’s the best of both worlds because I can serve God’s people in a very unique setting,” he said, noting that he felt God’s call “very strongly.”
“As Jesus says in the gospels to his disciples, ‘You have not chosen me. I have chosen you,’” he emphasized.
Both Fr. Kirk and Fr. Hinkle don military uniforms that signify their role as officers and priests.
“In chaplain terms, you call it ‘mastering’ both sides of the collar,” Fr. Hinkle said, before pointing to two pins on his shirt collar. “On one side I have my rank insignia, on the other side I have my cross.”
“In professional naval chaplaincy we’re called the master both,” he added. “To be both an officer and also represent our faith.”
Fr. Hinkle’s father, a retired Navy admiral, saw the chaplain’s mission as imperative.
“If they have this opportunity to spread the Gospel, if you will, and the sacraments, that’s what they’re there for,” Jim Hinkle said.
Fr. Hinkle’s mother, Meredith Hinkle, said she was happy with her son’s vocation.
“We’re just happy because we know he’s doing what God called him to do,” she said. “You can just tell, he’s just very, very happy.”