Canadian chaplain leads first Mass for Catholics in Kandahar
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Evening Mass at Fraise Chapel wasn’t celebrated any differently than on other Saturday nights.
But instead of a U.S. military priest conducting the service, Canadian army Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Acton ministered to the small group of Catholics.
Though this was his first Mass in Kandahar, he’ll become a familiar site at the wooden-framed and tin-roofed chapel in the next few months, conducting services for Catholics of the various nations making up the base’s military contingent and civilian work force.
“Catholic means universal,” said Acton, who’s been an Army chaplain — “padre” to his fellow soldiers — for 14 years of active and reserve service.
“In the Canadian chaplaincy we’re used to working in an international setting and also working in an ecumenical setting,” he said.
Ecumenical is defined as both relating to the worldwide Christian church and establishing and promoting unity among churches and religions.
The Canadian army is deploying about 250 soldiers to the Kandahar area and will soon take over the Provincial Reconstruction Team from U.S. forces.
Acton is part of the Joint Signals Regiment from Kingston, Ontario, which typically is one of the first units to deploy to an area, setting up communications and preparing for a larger group of soldiers.
Once the bulk of the 250 soldiers arrives and starts operating, he’ll be splitting his ministering between the Kandahar Airfield and the PRT.
“It’s very important to be with the troops, where they are,” said Acton. “You go wherever they go. A chaplain shouldn’t sit in his office and wait for someone to come in with their problems.
“A lot of this ministry is a ‘ministry of presence.’ ”
Acton’s presence should become a familiar sight to the various nations making up the Kandahar congregation.
“This, in my opinion, is the best way to be a priest,” he said. ‘[Working with] the military is absolutely fantastic.”
He arrived about a week ago and will be in Afghanistan for the next few months, sharing the responsibilities of celebrating Mass with U.S. Army chaplains.
“This is a privilege for me,” he said. “The American chaplains were very welcoming and helpful and invited me to participate fully in the life of the congregation.”
After Saturday’s Mass, congregation members filed past Acton, shaking his hand and passing along their greetings. A few Canadian soldiers attended the service along with nearly a dozen U.S. military members and a handful of civilian base workers.
Outside, soldiers said that the priest’s home country doesn’t matter. Rather, it’s the Mass that’s important.
“The religion’s the same, no matter what,” Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cruz said.
“I didn’t even notice he was Canadian,” added Cruz, who is with Headquarters and Service Battery, 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Airborne.
“It doesn’t matter to me [where he’s from],” said 1st Lt. David Fedor, Company B, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, “as long as he’s genuine about what he’s preaching. That’s all I care about.”