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Devotion To Rosary Helps Soldiers Cope With Homesickness, Stress

Philippines

October 29 2008

Beside soldier Romeo Barandino´s bed in a "rebel-infested" village in the southern Philippines hang a rosary and a crucifix, near a picture of his wife and two children.

Barandino says praying the rosary helps him feel close to his family and do his job as a member of the 73rd Infantry Battalion, which he says is protecting people from the communist New People´s Army (NPA).

The infantryman was speaking with UCA News at his camp in a remote and mountainous community in Paquibato district of Davao City, 965 kilometers southeast of Manila. Regional Armed Forces spokesperson Major Armand Rico has described the area as an "NPA lair."

Barandino, 38, told UCA News that praying his green-beaded rosary reminds him of his wife, Nenita, because she gave it to him. "Praying the holy rosary gives me strength in doing my job, which is to protect civilians against NPA attacks," Barandino said on Oct. 7, as the Military Ordinariate commemorated the Month of the Rosary with the rest of the Church in the Philippines.

The ordinariate is the Church jurisdiction responsible for the pastoral care of all military and police personnel and their families, as well as personnel of the coast guard, and the prison and firefighting bureaus.

Barandino recalled he was almost hit by rebel gunfire during a clash on Sept. 13 in Odiongan village. After his platoon escaped the attack and returned to their barracks, Barandino remembers kneeling on the floor and praying the rosary. "I was trembling because it was the fifth time I eluded death," the army private said.

Another soldier, Sergeant Dionisio Amoroso, 24, told UCA News during the visit that praying the rosary reminds him of his parents back in Tacloban City, on the central island of Leyte.

His mother gave him the prayer beads before he left for Davao City in March 2006, he said. "Since then, every time I feel lonely, I only have to pray the holy rosary and feel refreshed."

He recalled praying with fellow troops after an encounter with the NPA in June. "I feared for our lives, but when we sat down and recited (the rosary) ... we felt we were safe."

Both Amoroso and Barandino admitted they did not pray the rosary before they joined the army.

Soldiers in camp pray the rosary together every Friday, Army Eastern Mindanao Command Spokesperson Rico told UCA News in his office in Panancan, Davao.

"Our mission is to flush out the rebels," and the prayer and other religious activities help "boost morale" among the troops, he said.

In the view of Father Carlito Buslon, the regional command´s Catholic chaplain, soldiers´ devotion to the rosary has become part of their "inner integral relationship with God."

"A soldier is different from the rest of us, because he is risking his life every minute," explained the priest, who holds the rank of army captain. "The ministry of the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines is to inculcate Christian values" among military personnel from the time they start military service, he told UCA News.

"Many soldiers understand" the deeper meaning of the rosary now, he said, and do not treat it merely as an "amulet" or a string of beads protecting them from bullets.

Even officers are devoted to the rosary.

Major General Raymundo Ferrer, outgoing commander of the 6th Infantry Division, based in Pikit, 100 kilometers west of Davao, says "praying the holy rosary has become a way of life, especially among the Catholic soldiers who comprise 90 percent of the entire division."

Ferrer spoke with UCA News on Oct. 9 in Taguig, just south of Manila, where he was recuperating from combat-related spinal surgery. "I developed the habit of praying the rosary before combat operations for safety and guidance," he said, adding that he also prays the rosary for peace to prevail and to help wounded soldiers.

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