Since the time of the Roman army, chaplains have been involved in military service. In the Czech Republic, however, it is a fairly new phenomenon, as only five years ago to this day, on June 3 1998, the Defence Ministry and the Church signed an agreement to appoint priests and ministers to serve in the military. To celebrate this anniversary, an ecumenical service was held at the Church of St. John of Nepomuk in Prague's Hradcany district on Tuesday.
There are currently fourteen chaplains serving in the Army of the Czech Republic. They come from five churches: the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the Czech Evangelic Brotherhood, the Fraternal Church, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, and the Church of the Seventh Day Adventists. In the five years that they have been serving the Army, chaplains have not only been responsible for the spiritual care of soldiers, but have often even taken the place of psychologists. Tomas Hoffman has been a Catholic Army Chaplain at the Military Medical Academy in Hradec Kralove for almost two years now:
"When I started working at the Academy, many questioned the importance of a chaplain in the military. But after the two years I have been here, the few barriers that exist are being broken successfully. I see my service here as a big gift for me, but also for the soldiers. So it benefits both sides. I think they found a way to talk about certain things they didn't have the courage to talk about - or didn't know who to turn to, to talk about them."
Chaplains are now serving in all foreign operations. So far, they have taken part in twelve missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq. Prague's Archbishop Cardinal Miloslav Vlk notes it was the first mission that really broke the ice between soldiers and priests. The Church sent in well-experienced chaplains who proved to be more than just servants to God when they showed they were just as capable of handling military training. Furthermore, chaplains soon learned not to preach, but rather simply serve soldiers whenever possible. According to Cardinal Vlk, they have now gained more trust and respect from Czech soldiers than psychologists. While for forty long years, under the communist regime, the Czech Army forbid its soldiers from getting a blessing from chaplains, today it admits their services are imperative and irreplaceable.