Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Ottawa will host an international conference of military chaplains soon. Does your faith group have any military chaplains? How do you square the circle between the ultimate goal of peace and ministering to the men and women who go to war?

In Canada, as in other countries, we have a military diocese whose bishop is headquartered here in Ottawa but cares for all the Roman Catholic military personnel from throughout Canada wherever they serve in the world.

For the common good, as citizens we are morally obligated to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend our countries. Our Catechism makes it very clear that the state also has a duty to defend its citizens. "Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defence" (no. 2310). In the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (79:5) we read that those who serve in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations and people who contribute to the maintenance of peace.

The military is often seen as being necessary for ensuring peace. There is one moral caution, however: some suggest that the accumulation of arms is also a means to deterring adversaries from war. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. However, when war seems inevitable, nations must ensure that certain conditions are met before they go to war. They are enumerated in the "just war doctrine", some of which are that: a) the damage inflicted by the aggressor must be lasting, grave and certain and b) all other means to putting an end to the conflict must have been exhausted.

Those who serve in the military have a right to and an obvious need for religious services and military chaplains provide them with this wonderful service. They generously agree to put themselves in harms way and serve alongside the men and women who serve their country with such distinction. We are fortunate indeed to have such brave and selfless ministers in our midst.