Maj.-Gen. Guy Chapdelaine, centre, receives the insignia of his new rank from General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defense staff (left), and Lt.-Gen. Charles Lamarre. (CCN/Deborah Gyapong)
OTTAWA (CCN) — The promotion of Canada’s chaplain general to major-general indicates a recognition of the significance of Canada’s military chaplaincy.
Maj.-Gen. Guy Chapdelaine, a Roman Catholic priest, and former brigadier-general, received his epaulets Nov. 7 from General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, and Lt.-Gen. Charles Lamarre.
“I’m very humbled by this promotion; it was unexpected,” said Chapdelaine in an interview. A couple of months ago, the chief of the defence staff had commented that he wished to elevate the chaplaincy, but he had not had a chance to ask him “what he means by that.”
“It’s really the chaplaincy through this promotion that was elevated, not myself as chaplain general,” he said. “It’s a recognition of the importance of religion, especially with the new policy of the Canadian Armed Forces: Strong, Secure, Engaged.”
The policy takes a “holistic approach” to well-being and health that includes “spiritual health,” for personnel and their families, including a suicide strategy and the “importance of spirituality,” to develop spiritual resilience, he said.
An example of a program for spiritual resilience for Catholic members of the armed forces involved a military delegation of more than 60 people making a pilgrimage to Lourdes at the end of May led by Bishop Scott McCaig of the military ordinariate. “It was one program that we had for spiritual resilience especially for those who are injured, for Canadian Armed Forces members and families who want to find a way to deepen their faith.”
“We’re looking for families facing adversity and the challenges we meet in our life to reflect on the spiritual aspect of our life and the importance of spirituality,” he said.
“Our faith helps us to cope with difficult moments in our life,” he said, citing divorce, illness, PTSD, the death of a loved one, the illness of a child, or the death of soldiers, including suicide, as examples.
He recalled how at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony he had prayed for all those who have considered or attempted suicide.
“It’s important to be open on these questions, to give our soldiers all the possible tools,” to be in good spiritual and physical health, “to help us to cope with difficult situations we can meet in our military life and in life in general,” Chapdelaine said.
Since Vance took over in 2015, the chaplain general has been invited to participate in the Armed Forces Council that includes all the commanders of the various branches: the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Special Forces. It also includes advisers such as the reserve adviser, and the judge advocate general, he said.
“I think I’m the first chaplain general to be invited,” Chapdelaine said. Previously, the chaplain general was invited to give the council a 10-minute briefing once a year.
He is “now around the table” in the role of an “adviser rooted in this committee,” he said. In addition, he now meets with the chief of the defence staff every three months on “moral and spiritual issues relating to the well-being of members and their families.”
The inter-faith team of military chaplains greeted the promotion with “a very positive reaction,” said Chapdelaine. “It was a morale booster.”
Along with the promotion of health and spiritual well-being is an acknowledgement of Canada’s religious diversity. “We are anticipating a growth of the chaplaincy in numbers,” Chapdelaine said. “That is why recruiting is very important to us.”
“I would like to see chaplains coming from other religions that are not represented in the chaplaincy: Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh chaplains,” he said. “We find them in the different police forces. I would like to have the same thing in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
At the same time, “we need to find the right people with the right education to work in the chaplaincy, as we have all the standards for our Christian, Jewish and Muslim chaplains.”
In 2019, the chaplain general will have new positions for three chaplains in his office who will work on new programs to develop spiritual resilience in the life of Armed Forces personnel and their families, he said.