A Norbertine Priest in Afghanistan and Kosovo

2b-kosovo-eye-diseaseFrom 2003 till 2011 I was a military chaplain. The Chief Chaplain of the Czech Military Chaplaincy told me, in the beginning of my service, that there is an important skill which military chaplain must have: the strength to bear loneliness. During my service there were many wonderful moments, but some were very hard. I had to go through long and intensive training, and often lived a long time out of my community. Deployments abroad meant living a couple months without my community and often without any other priest. I lost several friends and had to announce their death to their families – parents, wives, siblings. There were moments when my community, my family, my friends or parishioners from the past, couldn´t understand.

On the other hand, I experienced that God was near by many new blessings: the community of military chaplains, the friendships of soldiers, wonders around me (such as the Afghanistan’s amazing natural landscape or Kosovo’s religious monuments). I met people who were very poor, sick, suffering, who lost a lot of family members in war, but who were full of hope and strong in the Lord. Their witness encouraged me. I often felt not strong enough, not good enough, not skilled enough; but God let me experience that he can use me as his instrument even with my weakness and imperfection. I experienced a conversion of soldiers who were touched by God´s grace and found Jesus. I could help them to prepare for baptism and they became our brothers in Christ. There was a lot of blessing around me.

Maybe the words of Psalm 94:18-19 could help me to express what I want to describe:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.

And my Norbertine family surprised me as well.

In Kosovo and Afghanistan, we met people who suffered horribly. There was a poor family in Kosovo where three children had a serious eye disease and had lost their eyesight. There was a painful pressure in their eyes, but any medication was too expensive and unavailable in their area. The kids got some eye drops bringing relief only on Christmas. There were villages destroyed by mudslides in Afghanistan. Many people lost their homes, their lives, or were injured. I was a chaplain of a Provincial Reconstruction Team and our goal was to support people in need. But this was too much and we needed more support of our Government and other organizations. And one day, there appeared a 4 year old boy, Hammidulla, in our camp. His uncle brought him in his arms. He fell into a fire and was burnt on his tummy, groin, and thighs. No hospital in Afghanistan was able to help him and military doctors suggested moving him to the Czech Republic for a complicated surgery. And there were many other cases, many other people in need.

We wrote letters to the Czech Republic and asked some organizations for support. I sent the letter to my community and priests of our Abbey. We found organizations and people who supported us. But guess who was the most generous? Norbertine parishes. They did collections on Sunday Masses and sent us more money than we expected. We could help Hammidulla to stay 5 months in the Czech Republic and paid part of his rehabilitation and special treatment. We could buy expensive medication for the needy people of Kosovo. We bought a lot of blankets, pharmaceuticals, school equipment, and built a new kitchen and dining room for kids in an orphanage in Afghanistan. I could continue with more stories.

Many of these generous parishes were in need as well. They needed money for restoring their churches, old organ, parish houses, and pastoral projects and so on. But there was still enough to share with others.

I was proud of my Norbertine family.