St. Dismas & Fr. Emil Kapaun

Today, March 25, is the feast of St. Dismas (by the way, March 25 is also the feast of the Annunciation!), and it seems a good day to recall/learn about a military chaplain from the Korean War, Fr. Emil Kapaun (kuh-PAHN).  While a prisoner of war, this Catholic priest was expert at "stealing" food.  His fellow POWs suffered terribly from extreme hunger, and so Fr. Kapaun felt as though it was fair to take a little food to keep his fellow soldiers from starvation.  Sometimes Fr. Kapaun had some of the other POWs help out ... sneaking out in the middle of the night to find and snatch what food they could.  Sometimes before going out on these food hunts, Fr. Kapaun would have he fellow POWs ask St. Dismas (the "Good Thief" who was crucified with Jesus) to pray for their success.    Soon, Fr. Kapaun was nicknamed Dismas by his comrades!


Then he ('Dismas') said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  He replied to him ('Dismas'), "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."     -Luke 23:42-43

I learned another thing from Fr. Kapaun's story, The Miracle of Fr. Kapaun ... that it is important to think careful about the way we treat our parish priests.  True, they are not perfect and sometimes need to be challenged; however, sometimes we can be too difficult as well.  I was stunned to learn that Fr. Kapaun served in World War II and so was not obligated to participate in the Korean War.  It was his deliberate choice to go back to a war zone!  When asked why he volunteered to go to a second war, Fr. Kapaun replied:

"Serving in those parishes - it didn't work out.  I mean, my God, Bob!  Have you ever had to deal with one of those women's committees of a church Altar Society?"

Now, this seems pretty unfair to a lot of Altar Society ladies, I'm sure many, many of them are very nice (and I'm sure that a few Knights of Columbus fellows can be rather trying, too).  If Fr. Kapaun had known that he would be quoted, he probably would have couched his words a little differently.  But, overall, the comment made me pause and think about the way we all treat our parish priests.  That one preferred war over parish life staggered me!  Not that priests should be bowed down to and blindly obeyed (that would be treating them as if they were God), but perhaps a prayer or two for discernment before sending that terse e-mail or making that flustered phone call would help.  How would you feel if your priest preferred duty in a war zone over serving your parish?

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