Believe. On the occasion of the celebrations of the centenary of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918, meet one of those chaplains who accompany the French army.

Hard to find a moment available with Bertrand Lorentz. The "Padre", as the "paras" call him, does not count much free time before his departure in external operation. " In opex », in military jargon. The destination is kept secret. Just can he specify the continent, namely Africa. A battery of tests awaits the military chaplain of 3e Naval Infantry Parachute Regiment of Carcassonne (Aude). " Everything rushes ", He acknowledges, at a meeting finally held in extremis in a cafe Labastide-Saint-Georges (Tarn), about fifty kilometers north-east of Toulouse. The priest goes on with the baptism and first communion of two children whose father is a soldier, then finds his family one last time before this four-month mission on the other side of the Mediterranean.

At first sight, only the Roman collar recalls the original vocation of Father Bertrand. With its trellis backpack, its sporty look and its military cut, the man must not have trouble to blend in the decor. " A vocation, in vocation He explains soberly. Ordained priest at the age of 28, Father Bertrand – now military chaplain under contract with the army – loves adventure. " My backpack is always ready to go "Says this priest who began his first years of priesthood in the diocese of Toulon, priest for ten years, before performing several missions in China.

On his return, and for his greatest happiness, he joined a regiment of paratroopers in Reunion. " Very few military chaplains have the diploma to parachutehe explains. The tests are difficult and need to be renewed every year. "This assignment triggers a strong emotion in his father, himself a paratrooper during the war in Algeria before becoming a doctor in France, then in Tunisia.

52-year-old Lorentz is far from being a "blue" in the regiment. This high-level cyclist, who has even raced with Jeannie Longo, has already made his way around the world: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Chad, Ivory Coast … In a conflict zone, the priest does not hesitate to take certain risks to be closer to the soldiers. He readily trades the red beret for a military helmet and a bulletproof vest.

As a Catholic chaplain of Operation Sangaris soldiers in the Central African Republic, the "Padre" recalls having been subjected to heavy fire during a patrol of several armored vehicles. " Some people lost their lives during the attack He says. " My presence alongside the soldiers allows me to be credible. I share their daily life. During the dropping operations, it is the same cable that connects us when we jump from the plane. In some soldiers, the clergyman is considered a " presence of God a little more materialized ", a " additional armor ". For his part, Father Bertrand hears win the war of hearts In countries where the French army is not necessarily well received by the population.

To justify his presence in a war zone, Father Bertrand considers that he has two essential missions: to be a watchman and to awake. " The mission of a military chaplain begins on his knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament in order to carry in prayer all the men entrusted to him "He explains at first. " This prayer can awaken in them a hope. I believe that in every man confronted with the dangers, there is a greater spiritual availability. Fundamental questions arise, questions about his existence, in relation to God. The military chaplain has the opportunity, in his eyes, to be a moral and spiritual support to men. " A listening, a council, a force to be able to live well its mission ", he cites, citing the very strong words of Pope Francis when he met with military chaplains: " We are here to heal the wounds of our soldiers who are sent to the front. These men are not unscathed from what they can live on the ground. "

The presence of a religious is also observed with "benevolence" by the hierarchy. " The military chaplain is seen by the officers as an aide to the command, the man to whom the military can tell. It is said of the chaplain that he takes the rank of the one to whom he addresses himself. My only visible rank on the uniform is the sign of the cross. I am the chaplain of all, not just the one who gives the sacraments. Moreover, it is not uncommon for soldiers, although non-believers, to come and speak after the death of a brother-in-arms. " The enthusiasm of youth leads some to a sense of infallibility, comments Father Bertrand. A veil is torn during our funeral vigils on the camp. The death of a soldier reminds them of a form of vulnerability. But we are all the same in the face of the eternal. "

In addition to the traditional international military pilgrimage (PMI) in Lourdes, place par excellence for baptisms of catechumens, Father Bertrand takes every year a dozen paratroopers in Rome. They have the opportunity to meet the pope during a hearing. Exchanges are also organized with cardinals to explain the Church's vision of the "just war".

According to this former Scout of Europe, there is " no incompatibility To be both a Christian and a soldier: " When we go to theaters of operations, it is always in a context of self-defense, in the service of peace. As part of the centenary of the First World War, Father Bertrand was naturally present in Paris on November 8, for a tribute ceremony in front of the Arc de Triomphe. During the Great War, 2,949 diocesan priests, 1,571 religious and 1,300 seminarians fell on the field of honor, and 375 nuns died in the service of the soldiers. " Since then, the war has changed typologysays the military. The threat is both outside and inside. Father Bertrand knows what he's talking about. His regiment in Carcassonne was initially targeted during the terrorist attacks of Aude.

Hugues-Olivier Dumez


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