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Military couples need church support for their unique challenges

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WASHINGTON — Finances, child rearing and career decisions are issues all husbands and wives will likely face at some point.

But military couples can add long separations, frequent relocations and the absence of extended family close by to that list.

And that's where the church — through the sacraments, clergy, catechetical outreach and parish life — can offer not just spiritual assistance, but also crucial emotional support, according to Catholic marriage preparation experts and military spouses.

"Military couples have many of the same challenges as couples everywhere … communication skills, work-life balance and learning to love one another as Christ loves the church," said Debbie Nowak of Agape Catholic Ministries and a marriage preparation instructor with her husband, Joe.

The church is obligated to help married couples deal with pressures of military life, said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services in an article published on Foryourmarriage.org, a website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"The calling to the sacrament of matrimony is so noble, yet it is currently challenged on many fronts, especially for military families in this time of war, deployment and suffering," he wrote.

He also pointed out that deployment brings additional challenges because it means the spouse at home becomes a single parent and "the possibility that the condition may become permanent in the case of death in the line of duty also adds to the tension already present in the family."

Kirsten Simonsgaard, a marriage preparation counselor with her husband, Craig, with CatholicMarriagePrep.com, an online marriage preparation program, said military life brings circumstances that may leave couples and families feeling isolated, but the church is always there for them.

"Even in good times, faith is sustained through the parish, formation, and relationships within the parish community, which is a vital support for us as Catholics and even more so in the military," she said.

Angelina Geaney, an Air Force wife, stationed with her husband, David, and their three children at Osan Air Base in South Korea, said in an email that her best advice for Catholic military families is to introduce themselves to the chaplain and become involved in the base parish right away.

"Staying connected to the church is so very important to a family. It is the one place you can go and immediately have an entire congregation who wants to help you spiritually and with everyday things. Don't know where the best grocery story is? Ask at Mass. Want to know places to take kids? Ask at Mass," she said.

But the parish also is the place for more serious questions, she added, such as having trouble coping with deployment with a new baby and no family nearby, having family issues or a faith crisis.

She said she has asked fellow parishioners for help and has been humbled by the immediate response of support with action and prayers.

Through CatholicMarriagePrep.com, a trained instructor married couple works online with Catholic military engaged couples all over the world, geographically separated because of deployments. The course, approved by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, is rooted in Scripture, St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body and other church teachings.

"The best help for military couples is also the best help for any couple: that is a marriage with Christ at the center where each partner is deeply committed to their relationship with Jesus," said Simonsgaard.

Archbishop Broglio wrote that active-duty chaplains serving men and women in uniform and those who minister in Veterans' Administration hospitals report one of the most serious by-products of the Middle East wars are the burdens placed on families.

"The communion of life, which describes marriage, suffers considerably," he said, adding that post-traumatic stress, economic hardship and re-entry into civilian life are also significant strains in military marriages.

The church and its members have a duty to contribute to the spiritual and psychological well-being of active-duty service members and veterans who have sacrificed for their country, the archbishop said.

"All of us, military and civilian, can help by our prayers and by our eagerness to welcome home the military personnel who return home to our cities and neighborhoods," he said.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017