Chaplains give reassuring report • on Servicemen's moral welfare
mGR. J. M. Clarke, Administrator Apostolic for H.M. Forces, writing to THE CATHOLIC HERALD, reassures the friends and relations of Catholic British National Servicemen abroad about their spiritual welfare.
Mgr. Clarke's words follow the statement from Tokyo by Fr. Patrick O'Connor, the Irish-American chaplain and special war correspondent in Korea, that the moral odds for 18 year-old Servicemen engaged in occupa tional duties are greater than they should be asked to face.
" It is, unfortunately, lamentably true that a much too large percentage of these boys is found, through the initial interview with chaplains on their call up, to be frighteningly ignorant of the fundamentals of our Faith and to have given up its practice from about the age of 14," writes Mgr. Clarke.
"Surely the Services cannot he blamed for this.
" However. it is the unanimous conviction of Catholic chaplains, based on their own work and experience, that their time in the Services proves for a very large number of these men to be a time of renewed contact with and instruction in their Faith and of return to their religious duties and practice.
" To quote a single example, there are two Catholic Army retreat houses in Germany, requisitioned, staffed, equipped. provided for and supported in every respect by the Army authorities.
" In these centres chaplains conduct retreats, religious refresher courses and moral leadership schools.
"Two chaplains are detailed almost exclusively for this work and all chaplains within reach take an active part in conduoting the exercises."
Mgr. Clarke says that in the retreat centre at Bielefeld, between January, 1948, and April, 1950. there were 72 religious courses— partly devotional, mainly instructional-57 of four days duration and 14 of seven days.
Two thousand and sixteen officers and men took part in these retreats and the large majority were National Service men, 18 or 19 years old.
"The chaplain in charge is
emphatje that, despite their ignorance of Christian doctrine and previous slackness, they quickly became interested, responsive, even enthusiastic and grateful and, with only about five exceptions over the whole period, they availed themselves of the opportunity of receiving the sacraments,
" It is a common experience that men who feel shy and strange on arrival, by the time the retreat is over make inquiries about returning for another course."
It is computed that over one half of the total Catholic Army personnel in Germany made a retreat over a period of two years.
The Royal Air Force have a separate Catholic Moral Leadership School in Germany where similar work is carried out on approximately the same scale and with equally consoling results.
" Wherever Royal Naval personnel can attend they are welcomed and given equal facilities by the other Services.
" A similar organisation exists for the Army and Royal Air Force in the British zone of Austria.
" In the Middle East and Far East Royal Air Force and Army chaplains combine and coordinate their work to run Catholic retreat courses in Malaya. the Canal zone of Egypt and Cyrennaica and as far away as Eritrea. where a chaplain goes periodically to conduct a retreat.
"The Royal Air Force Moral Leadership Courses for Catholics in the United Kingdom have achieved well deserved recognition and popularity and a series of courses for Catholics in the Army begins at Bagshot Park almost immediately."
Nowhere, says Mgr. Clarke. has he sensed any justification whatever for a note of alarm, and he adds : "One Bishop has written expressing his gratitude that so many of his subjects returned to him from the Services better Catholics than when they joined."