Singing Spiritual Brothers in Arms: 4 Military Chaplains Sing Songs Reflecting the Glory of God
Promoted by the Diocese of the French Armed Forces, this artistic initiative was meant to bring hope to the faithful worldwide during Advent.
Bis orat qui bene cantat (“He who sings well prays twice”). This maxim attributed to St. Augustine, which has contributed to the exaltation of the beauty of chant in the Christian liturgy throughout the centuries, is still bearing numerous fruits, as attested by a New Evangelization musical initiative put forward by four military chaplains from the Diocese of the French Armed Forces.
It is indeed with this conviction — that chant is a privileged expression of prayer — that they formed a quartet under the name of “Les Padrés” (a reference to the nickname given to Catholic chaplains in the French Army), making their Parisian diocesan house reverberate by singing this Advent season.
Assembled by the prelate for the French Armed Forces, Bishop Antoine de Romanet, and composed of three priests and one deacon (musically accompanied by two lay chaplains), the group gathered at the chapel of the Bon Secours Sisters in Paris and recorded 12 traditional songs broadcast on social media. Among them: Regarde l’étoile (Look at the Star), a song inspired by St. Bernard’s prayer to the Virgin Mary and which has almost reached 1 million hits on Facebook in less than two weeks; Dieu seul suffit (God Alone Suffices), a tribute to St. Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer “Let Nothing Disturb You”; and or Regardez l’humilité de Dieu(Look at the Humility of God), a song about the mystery of God’s smallness.
“The idea of doing music videos was born just a month ago in a diocesan meeting as we were thinking about ways to reach out to people in these times of disease and loneliness, bearing in mind that the internet is a fundamental tool to do so,” Bishop de Romanet told the Register.
The logistics came together in a succession of providential occurrences. Just a few hours later, a contact of his, a sound engineer, called to voluntarily offer his services for any project he may have in favor of the Church for the Christmas season. The bishop then called four military chaplains whose musical skills he knew, including Father Charles Troesch, already known in France for being part of the successful musical trio Les Prêtres, and all of them accepted the challenge, although none of them are professional singers.
“We were not looking for it,” Bishop de Romanet continued, “but in a providential way, we could gather in one single quartet, land forces [Father Pierre-Nicolas Chapeau], air force [Nicolas Provoyeur, recently ordained as a deacon in preparation for the priesthood], national gendarmerie [Father Troesch] and the navy [Father Pierre Fresson].”
“Everything was done so spontaneously, with a natural evidence, and in such a climate of joy and brotherhood, especially since the project was entirely homemade, that is, without any makeup nor special effects; we had no budget — everything was done with a total sense of ease, with no other goal than to share the Christian faith.”
The recording of the 12 songs planned for this session was completed in a day. Seven songs have been published on social media so far, and five other Christmas songs are expected to be released on the diocese’s YouTube channel in the coming days. Given the popularity, the quartet may gather again for other liturgical celebrations like Easter, or even record an album, but Bishop de Romanet said nothing is being officially planned at this stage.
“I am so happy about the way this initiative is developing, though, to see how much people are moved by the figures of these military chaplains who provide spiritual support and fuel the strength of soul of those who give up their life for our freedom.”
Unifying Souls and Hearts
The sense of peace that the celebration of the Son of God’s birth always brings to the world is even more needed at the end of a year marked by a pandemic, which has dramatically increased social deprivation, not to mention the bloody terror attacks and the numerous conflicts that are still shaking the planet.
For Father Pierre-Nicolas Chapeau, a 47-year-old chaplain of the Foreign Legion who recently spent several months in Mali within the framework of the ongoing Operation Barkhane, this musical initiative offers a precious opportunity to pastorally reach souls, wherever they are, and infuse Christian hope in a time of great uncertainty and isolation, through the “continent” of the Internet, which must be evangelized, too.
In an interview with the Register, Father Chapeau explained that, within the Foreign Legion, Christmastime is the highlight of the year, together with the commemoration of the Battle of Camarón, every April 30. The birth of Christ, he said, is celebrated by the whole Legion, which gathers militaries from different cultures and religions. “It is the feast of the family; it means a lot for these men, who are sometimes thousands of miles away from their homes. They are touched by the Christmas spirit, which has a universal scope.”
Singing is, in this sense, the greatest vector of cohesion between these different worlds, united by a same sense of duty and honor.
“As a chaplain in the Legion, I’ve been experiencing the fact that singing helps us make one body, as our voices mix and unify our souls and hearts. I can really feel that when I strike up martial songs with my comrades,” Father Chapeau said.
Moreover, this initiative from the Diocese of the Armed Forces has also been a way for the chaplains, who spend most of their time on mission with soldiers in theaters of war and almost never get the chance to meet their spiritual brothers in arms, to enjoy a privileged moment of fraternal communion.
“I must say I was a bit nervous at the beginning, although, as a priest, I am used to speaking in public; but singing with my heart in front of the cameras was not that simple.”
He added, “I am so glad I did, as it has been for me a very memorable moment of joy.”