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Beyond the bullets and the Band-Aids: Military chaplaincy at DND

By Andrea Eid, Materiel Group Internal Communications Co-op Student –

Although not all service members turn to religion for solace, most take comfort in knowing that the ‘Padre’ is someone they can confide in and rely on for help and guidance.

Since 1899 chaplains have been an important source of support for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Today, the Department of National Defence (DND) continues to acknowledge that beyond the ‘beans, bullets and Band-Aids’, CAF members and their families require sustenance of a less tangible nature, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

The mission of the Chaplain branch at DND is to support and enhance the operational readiness of the CAF by tending to the emotional and spiritual well-being of all CAF personnel and their families.

For many Materiel Group military members who work on the Gatineau side, Padre Alex Lewanowicz, Unit Chaplain of CFSU(O) Chaplain services in Gatineau, is the padre they turn to.

“It is the padre’s job to ensure that the Materiel Group is the best it can be. There is a mission that needs to be fulfilled, and it is undeniable that there is an aspect of personal well-being that speaks to being able to accomplish this mission,” he says.

Padre Lewanowicz spent ten years of his life as a social worker for the Shepherds of Good Hope before becoming an ordained minister. “I’ve always been fascinated by people and their stories. This is what initially drew me towards ministry, but joining the military was also always close to my heart.” he explains.

With the encouragement of his wife and son, Padre Lewanowicz served in the Reserve Force at an artillery unit in Ottawa before finally serving in the Regular Force as a chaplain for five years.

Currently, there are approximately 190 chaplains serving in the Regular Force, and about 110 serving in the Reserve Force.

Although their primary duty is to minister to military personnel and their immediate family members, their services are also open to civilian employees.

“Most padres are not primarily counsellors or therapists. They are a listening ear, a source of perspective, and a point of contact to other supports. Anybody can access a padre.”
–  Padre Alex Lewanowicz

One of the most important ways padres support both military personnel and civilians is by providing a listening ear in a confidential setting. In this way they can refer members to care providers, social workers and medical personnel where they can find directed care for issues such as addiction, PTSD, abuse or suicidal thoughts. They are also available around the clock simply to talk and offer advice on family, work or marriage-related problems.

More commonly, padres provide support to personnel and their families during the post-deployment phase of operations. After overseas deployments, military personnel often need help coping with the challenges of family reintegration or any other issues that may come to the fore after an extended time away from home.

Padres also tend to the spiritual needs of personnel by providing religious services such as leading worship or performing marriages, funerals, and baptisms.

Along with providing spiritual counsel, padres must facilitate the worship of everyone by ensuring that every member’s religious needs are catered to, regardless of their background. “In a world of religious and cultural multiplicity, it is often a challenge helping all types of people,” says Padre Lewanowicz. Often padres will refer members to a padre from within their specific religious denomination so that they may receive the spiritual guidance best suited for their needs.

Sacred Spaces are also made available in several DND buildings. They contain resources such as sacred texts, materials for smudging, and prayer rugs for those of all faith traditions.

Although many people are daunted by the idea of confronting their problems and opening up to another human being, Padre Lewanowicz urges everyone to turn to their padre for help.

“We are confidential, we love people and we are open to all. My job is to help you and to listen to your story.”

For more information about the Canadian Forces chaplaincy service visit the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service – CFSU(O) web page.

This article was initially published on ADM(Mat)’s intranet.

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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