A policeman needs to have his life in order, as death lurks around the corner
LIKE SO MANY COUNTRIES IN LATIN AMERICA, Argentina is going through troubled times, which is putting pressure on law enforcement. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) interviewed Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba. He is a pioneer in providing pastoral care to police officers.
Society entrusts this specific and important task to the forces of law and order. What is the greatest challenge they face?
When the emergency signals sound, the police set out, very often not knowing what they will find. It might be a situation where an old lady has lost her cat which has climbed up into a tree, or it might be a home where the father has killed his wife and is holding his children hostage and ends up committing suicide in his despair. This is the life of a policeman; sometimes two police officers go out and only one returns alive. The life of a police officer is very, very stressful.
That is why we insist on formation. We can see that a policeman has had a great deal of training. He knows what he must do. We work on the basis of Catholic social doctrine and ethical principles and supply the whyhe has to do it and the how of he ought to do it. Nowhere in the world, I believe, should the police officer forget that the offender is a person and that this offender also has a soul that needs to be saved.
As you said, it is a very dangerous profession, in which anything can happen any day. How to prepare them for danger?
We tell them that they must have their life very much in order. They need to have been able to say goodbye to their families (each day) without leaving things unsaid or undone. Many police die in the line of duty. If you do your job badly you don’t know if you’re going to lose your job or not; sometimes you may. If a baker doesn’t do his work well, then his family won’t have any bread that day. If a policeman does his work badly, someone might die, someone might lose their freedom or lose their belongings. The work of a policeman, the primary material, if you will forgive me putting it like this, is life and liberty. He is a servant of life.
This must surely be a terrible psychological burden? A great deal of police training is focused on crime. In society, thanks be to God, there are more good people than bad. Our approach is that, while recognizing everything that has to do with crime and all the specific laws, rules, and procedures in regard to such crime, they should nonetheless be focused on service. This is very beneficial because it is life-fulfilling. We support them in their training, in relation to ethics and professional morality. Among other things we have composed a prayer for police officers, part of which states: “Lord, help me to do the hardest tasks without becoming hardened, the most noble acts of service without vainglory.” This is the fundamental point.
A policeman is very much in contact with evil, with violence, corruption, robbery, people trafficking, drugs. How do they succeed in not getting stuck in a negative view of the world?
It is not easy for them. They are very focused on looking for what ordinary people don’t see, and they find it very easily. A priest, let’s say, sees everything from the perspective of faith, he sees through the eyes of the Church, as we say. A journalist sees things from his own point of view or profession. And a policeman likewise sees things from his own perspective. They are very much exposed to the contamination of what they have to deal with, the darkness, the murkiness, the evil side of society. They are helped by spirituality and by the family, which support them because this emotional burden is a very heavy psychological weight to carry.