KOCHI: Father Jis Jose Kizhakkel of Kothamangalam is no ordinary priest. A Naib Subhedar in the Indian Army now, Fr Kizhakkel has set aside his priestly vestments to proudly don the olive greens. On Saturday, at the Institute of National Integration in Pune, he became the first priest of the Syro Malabar Church to be appointed to the rank of Naib Subhedar, Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) ( Religious Teacher) in the Indian Army.
32-year-old Fr Kizhakkel wanted to tread a different path for the betterment of society, after his ordainment in Jan 2015. In their new role, he and the 18 other personnel, who were also appointed as JCO (Religious Teachers), along with him as part of the batch of successful trainees, will be imparting lessons of the scriptures and conducting rituals and religious ceremonials for officers, jawans and their families. They would be organising celebrations of all religious functions and festivals at their respective units.
"When I came to know of the post of 'religious teacher' in Indian Army through their UPSC website, I was elated. After having been ordained a priest, I felt that this is the best thing I could for the nation and the soldiers who are selflessly guarding our lives. I applied, cleared the physical and medical tests in January last year and got selected for training," said Fr Kizhakkel.
Training at the Institute comprised a gruelling seven-week physical training phase, and an 11-week spiritual training phase, which introduced us to teachings, principles, and rituals from every religion. This exercise is mandatory before being appointed as a JCO (Religious Teacher), Fr Kizhakkel added.
Son of Valsa Jose and late Jose Varghese, Fr Kizhakkel studied theology at St Thomas Apostolic Seminary in Vadavathoor and did his graduation in Philosophy from Calicut University and BCA and MCS from Bharathiar University.
"I find myself very fortunate to be part of the Army and serve with the soldiers, who face severe stress and depression, being away from their loved ones in adverse weather and rough terrain while serving the Nation. It is a service to God also, and as all are destined in life to play a role, and I have humbly accepted this opportunity. There are priests working in foreign countries as chaplains in their Armed Forces", said Fr Kizhakkel.
The objective of a religious teacher in the Indian Army is to ensure national integration, with religious and regional harmony in the unit. "It is a very tough role to play. Undertaking spiritual counselling for the soldiers, understanding and alleviating their personal pains and distress, visiting and consoling the injured and other patients admitted at Army hospitals in forward areas, and visiting prisoners to counsel, advise and impart lessons to them, are among the duties of a JCO (Religious Teacher)", said Fr Kizhakkel.