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 charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) interviews Father Nicolás Daniel Julián, the senior police chaplain for the province of Córdoba in Argentina. In this two-part interview, we will hear from this pioneer in his work of pastoral apostolate to the police force and the major challenges facing the profession.
“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
Here is the second of the two-part interview
( To read part 1, please follow this link)
You’ve mentioned a couple of the dangers that can threaten security forces in general and the police in particular. One of these is 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.
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 manage not getting stuck in this negative worldview?
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.
“Lord, you take care of my own ones, since I have to watch over the others.”A Policeman’s Prayer
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 will return home to his family. He spends a lot of time outside the home, working difficult hours. On so many occasions a policeman is unable 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.