Chaplaincy Service in Latvia

Author: Līga Lakuča
Chaplaincy Service in Latvia


Chaplaincy Service in Latvia

The Lord is my power and the source of my strength

The Most Reverend Archbishop Zbig­ņevs Stan­ke­vičs of the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese of Riga visited the Latvian National Armed Forces (LNAF) Ādaži base and Chapel; he met with Latvian Chief of Defence (CHOD) Major General Raimonds Graube, LNAF Chief of Chaplains Elmārs Pļaviņš, base units’ commanders and chaplains.

During our interview we discussed the life and values, and the chaplains’ role in our armed forces.

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— Why do we need chaplains in the Army?

— Recently I had a discussion with the CHOD and he said that our Army needs chaplains and that they are highly appreciated. The simplest justification of this is that a soldier is no robot but a human being with a soul and spiritual needs that differ from basic material incentives and psychological needs. This is most visible when soldiers participate in peacekeeping missions... A soldier’s call is to be prepared to give up his life at any time, to be prepared to defend, to rescue and risk his own life. During such situations a soldier needs maximum mobilisation of all of his strengths; he requires a motivation. A soldier will have the strongest motivation only when he will be spiritually motivated and feeling the responsibility to God and his own conscience besides from being physically well prepared which, of course, is mandatory with this job. This is the dimension chaplains should work with. It is the most profound and fundamental motivation which serves as the basis for the rest. This motivation is one’s necessity for communication with the divine as we are not just physical beings in psychological dimension; we have our very special spiritual needs as well. A human being’s major requirement is communication with divine reality.

If a man is being blocked and closed for that, a crisis begins causing an inner emptiness and senselessness. This need exists and will not disappear. Why do we have such a high rate of alcohol consumption in post-communist countries? It is directly linked to the mind being silenced. Every person has spiritual needs; there is something that drives and burns us and we are searching for ways to fight it. Of course, it transforms into emotions. A man starts drinking and then this problem as if disappears for a while. Still, one might drink as much as he can but he will still be lacking something without developing a communication with the divine. The Chaplaincy Service and chaplains’ task is to provide strong moral foundation and help soldiers to communicate with the divine so that they could satisfy their most intimate spiritual needs.

— There is an opinion that a chaplain can be substituted by a psychologist.

— No, because they have different spheres of competence. A psychologist is working with the psychological dimension which has its own mechanisms and conformities while chaplains deal with the spiritual dimension. They supplement each other; in some cases their activities may overlap. For instance, if a chaplain is a priest who hears a confession – this is not just a psychotherapy element, there is something more.

— A person might think that it is not safe to confide in the chaplain about his anguish; what if he tells that to somebody else?

— If a priest reveals what he has learned during confession, he gets expelled from the Church. The secret of confession is confidential and never to be disclosed thus anyone should feel safe.

— Are there any particular personal qualities a chaplain should possess?

— He has to be one of the soldiers, physically and psychologically prepared, with the right temper.  And, most importantly, he should be a religious person knowing how to communicate with the divine or else he won’t be able to assist those in need. A chaplain should be considerate, competent, well prepared and knowledgeable of his service, one who has a general knowledge in psychology; he should not try to perform psychologist’s tasks because of different competences but they both should cooperate.

What would be your wish to our soldiers?

— I recollect the words of John the Baptist during his mission in the Desert of Judea when crowds of different people came to him because they saw that he had the God’s power and authority. People wanted to hear his advice and asked “What shall we do then?” It is interesting because some soldiers also came to John the Baptist and asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” This is exactly what I would like to wish our soldiers – do not accuse people falsely and be content with what you have. We must stick to these words if we want to have a clear consciousness and be able to handle ourselves. Think about it!

My motto as a bishop is The Lord is my strength, in Latin For­ti­tu­do me­a Do­mi­nus. The original text says – The Lord is my power and the source of my strength. When in tough times I always remind myself of that.

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