Padre Francesca Scorsone on the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield.

Padre finds military chaplaincy ‘exciting way to serve God’

By 
  • August 24, 2011

TORONTO - When Canadian troops return home from Afghanistan in late August, chaplain Francesca Scorsone will finish a six-month stretch of working the “most fulfilling job” she’s ever had.

“Padre” Scorsone, a military chaplain stationed at Kandahar Airfield, has been ministering to fellow members of the Canadian Army there since March. As part of the last rotation of air support to be deployed in Afghanistan, she provides a faith presence through liturgy and Catholic pastoral care, and, just as importantly, an open and sympathetic ear to all.

“A padre walks with the people that they’re with,” said Scorsone, referring to the traditional name of a military chaplain. “My role is to be a mentor, moral guide and someone who they can talk to when they need someone to talk to.”

It’s not an uncommon need given the occupational hazards. Troops come to Scorsone with their worries, fears and doubts, she told The Catholic Register by phone from Kandahar. Whether it’s concerns about family back home, questions of faith and ethics that arise while at war or simply a story that needs to be shared, Scorsone is there for support and advice. And while she’s not trying to convert anyone, her Catholic roots certainly shine through.

“I facilitate their relationship with God,” she said. “I want to make sure they are shown who God is. You are the only Gospel some people read.”

Scorsone’s efforts to be a representative of Christ to those serving their country abroad haven’t gone unnoticed. In late July, she received a commander’s commendation, an accolade awarded by the highest-ranking member of a team, for her “energetic approach” to her work.

Perhaps it’s the vast array of Scorsone’s experiences that helped her minister in such an effective and well-received way. A Toronto native, she studied drama at Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts before attending the University of Toronto for philosophy and Christianity and Culture. Before studying at the Toronto School of Theology, she did a year of mission work abroad. Though Scorsone contemplated entering the religious life, she ultimately decided she wanted to serve the Church as a layperson. But she knew she needed to be involved with her faith, so she worked in parishes and as a chaplain at All Saints Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont., before enlisting in the Canadian Forces.

“Military chaplaincy is a really exciting way to serve God,” she said.

One of the things that thrills Scorsone about her position is that she is a lay leader in the Church. While she is “not pretending to be a priest,” she recognizes that lay Catholics can offer some things that priests can’t, and vice versa.

She doesn’t deny that her job has its trials though.

“The most challenging part has been the long hours. When you’re deployed, you’re working 24/7,” said Scorsone. “You can deal with any crises, you pull through together… but when it’s every day, it’s challenging.”

Soon, those tough hours will be in the past. When Scorsone returns home to Petawawa, Ont., she looks forward to having a weekend off, when she can sleep in her own bed, make her own meals and spend time with friends and family.

Along with a collection of stories, experiences and new relationships, Scorsone brings back home with her a greatly deepened prayer life.

“When you’re at war, you start to pray more.”

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