Argentina: A police officer needs to have his life very much in order, since he could perish on any given day in the line of duty

In recent times the severe economic and social crisis that is affecting many countries, combined with the existing social inequalities they suffer, has triggered a disastrous fragmentation of society. All these factors have a direct repercussion on the work of the police and security forces, who have been subjected to intense criticism on account of their actions in various countries around the world.

María Lozano, a journalist working for the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) interviews Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba in Argentina, a pioneer in his work of pastoral apostolate to the police in the face of the major challenges facing the profession.

ACN: Why a pastoral outreach to the police? What is a specific characteristic of this particular section of society that requires a special pastoral apostolate?

Father Nicolás Daniel Julián: It is not merely a matter of providing a religious service, but rather a targeted care directed at the individual police officer within his own family and social setting and in the concrete situations that arise in his life. My work involves the pastoral, sacramental, missionary, and formative dimensions, on behalf of the Catholic faithful committed to our care. A police officer is endowed by the state with certain very specific characteristics that set him apart from others, namely authority and firearms. The police have the power to make decisions affecting the lives and liberty of others and society. It is for this reason that the Church wishes to concern herself specifically with the care, accompaniment, and support of the individual police officer. Since in a general sense it is his parish that accompanies him, in the day to day pastoral outreach of the Church, the chaplaincy seeks to accompany him in the specifics of his life. Our motto in Córdoba is: “personal accompaniment”.

Society, through its governments, 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 has to do. We work on the basis of Catholic social doctrine and ethical principles and supply the why he has to do it and the how 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.

There is much criticism of the police and security forces. Is it not also important to highlight the dignity of the police officer in respect of the duties entrusted to him?
As we say, perhaps a little crudely, in Argentina, it is his job to do the dirty work, to clean up things that aren’t good in society, to maintain order and restore it when it has broken down. It’s a thankless task, where there is a dangerous situation and the rest of society runs away, and the police have to tackle it. They not only have to be properly trained and equipped, but also inwardly armed and prepared, and be very clear in their thinking.

As you said, it is a very dangerous profession, in which anything can happen any day. How to prepare them to face this?
We tell them that they have to 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. In practice a police officer spends the whole day waiting to see if anything will happen and hoping that nothing will happen, and so it is day after day. A good part of everybody’s life is routine, but the life of a policeman cannot be routine, because we are talking about life and liberty. This psychological burden, I imagine, can also become a spiritual burden, given the important values they have to defend. How do you address this need? How do you alleviate this burden?

A great deal of the training the police are given is focused on crime. In society, thanks be to God, there are more good people than bad. Our approach is that, while recognising 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.

You’ve mentioned a couple of the dangers that can threaten the security forces generally and the police in particular. One of these is vainglory, the abuse of power. How do you convey this sense of a calling to service instead of abuse of power?
We speak of “helping others” and never “helping oneself”. Essentially, this is what Christ told us: that no one has greater love than he who is capable – and the policeman is capable – of giving his life for those he loves. If there is no love or conviction, it is easy to be a simple public functionary; is very easy for a policeman to succumb to all kinds of temptation, because he has authority, he has a weapon and the power to decide over the life and liberty of others. In our work of accompaniment, we work very much in the area of training – intellectual training, professional training – but we also place a great deal of emphasis on their spiritual care. Achieving a firm sense of (moral) conviction is essential; no rules of engagement, no legislation can suffice when your own life is at risk. Who would take a bullet in the head for a million dollars? We would say he was crazy. A policeman does not tackle crime for the sake of the money, to fulfil an order or a law. Only when there is a firm moral conviction do people serve unhesitatingly, even to the point of giving their lives if necessary.

Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba in Argentina.
Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba in Argentina.

A policeman is very much in contact with evil, with violence, corruption, robbery, people trafficking, drugs. In the midst of all these evils how do they succeed in not getting stuck in this 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, with its long hours and inherent tensions.

So you’re saying that the family is very important for the police and security forces?
I believe this is the great shield that protects them, their family, because they want to return home clean. One policeman once told me, “I do investigations and study corpses burnt by fire. I finish my work, put on my civilian clothing and return home. I hug my son and have to help him do his school homework, as though nothing had happened. It’s not easy.” A fireman in the same quarter is sitting calmly, sorting out his equipment, doing his training, when the alarm goes off. Within 45 seconds he is dressed in his firefighter’s uniform and within a minute he is already on the road. This kind of psychological tension requires not only  technical and professional training, but also a sense of emotional and spiritual equilibrium. And we’ve had good results in this area. Our task is to support them, because for us it is a defeat when we hear of a bad cop or of one committing suicide.

Your pastoral outreach also includes the families. What is the nature of your apostolate for the families of police officers? Where does the focus lie?
It is complicated, but beautiful. Because a policeman’s life is very irregular; a third of it is spent in uniform… He begins his work at a predetermined time, without knowing when he’s going to return home to his family. He spends a lot of time outside  the home, working difficult hours. On so many occasions a policeman is not able to share the ordinary social life or important moments of his family members. Besides, Argentina is going through a difficult time economically. This means that he has to work still longer hours and spend less time at home. We try to train them not to neglect what means so much to them. I saw a policeman touch the picture of Our Lady at the entrance to the police station and asked him, “What are you saying to her?” He replied: “Lord, you take care of my own ones, since I have to watch over the others.” Marvellous, we included it in the policeman’s prayer.

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.


Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.


What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.


Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.


¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.