Montreal’s Archbishop Christian Lépine said his early military training has convinced him it will take God’s power to end the Ukraine conflict. Register file photo

Military training re-oriented Lépine’s future

By 
  • April 6, 2022

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine says his early encounter with military life convinces him God’s power is vital to stopping the bloody conflict in Ukraine, which has now led to allegations of war crimes by invading Russian forces.

“We need the power of God because He has the power to touch people’s souls,” Lépine told The Catholic Register. “The longer it goes, the harder it will be to stop.”

The Archbishop’s comments came as he marked the 10th anniversary of his consecration to the pastorship of Montreal’s Roman Catholics in late March. Lépine is the eighth archbishop and 10th bishop of the diocese since it was created in 1838. He follows in the historic footsteps of Bishop Ignace Bourget, who led and dominated Montreal Catholic life from 1840 to 1876. At 70, Lépine says he has no dreams of rivalling Bourget’s extraordinarily lengthy tenure.

“At 75, we offer our resignation. I have four-and-a-half years ahead of me,” he laughs like someone with a wall calendar carefully marked.

But in the formative years prior to his ordination in 1983, Lépine was drawn to a soldier’s life. At 18, he entered the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, the French-language counterpart to the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. Lépine now considers his years of military schooling and training as pivotal time to “re-orient” his life in a way that would eventually lead him to the priesthood.

“I was considering becoming a military man. I liked everything in Saint-Jean. I liked the formation. It was about education, and it was a really rich enriching experience. It’s been with me all of my life,” he said.

The Archbishop says he particularly values the quality of “righteousness” his years at military college imparted, along with a sense of fraternity and responsibility.

“I learned from my experience in the military the ideas of truth, education, faithfulness and righteousness. I was very inspired by (them).”

Ultimately, his calling led away from the College militaire to Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, the study of theology at the Université de Montréal and to Rome’s Gregorian University. But Lépine says his youthful grounding in military life taught him a thought ascribed to U.S. General Colin Powell: “A good solider is always a reluctant warrior. A good soldier doesn’t want war because he knows the price of war. A good soldier wants to serve the peace.”

Seeking that peace is why the Archbishop led Montreal Catholics in praying with Pope Francis for the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25. God’s will, he says, must be called on to end the death, destruction and flight of millions of refugees.

This week’s revelations of mass rape and civilians being murdered en masse with their hands tied behind their backs have subsequently shocked the world, and galvanized accusations of war crimes not just from Ukraine’s leaders but also from NGO groups such as Human Rights Watch as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“What is happening in Ukraine is… it is a tragedy,” Lépine said. “We know when a war begins, but we don’t know how it ends. We need God to touch people’s souls so the war can stop.”

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