Companions: Religion and War?

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by Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P.

Retreat Ft. Knox, Kentucky 1942

In many ways it is pensive for us to acknowledge that, from one generation to the next, religion and war have been companions. Certainly this remains true in 2004.

During World War II it became commonplace for chaplains to give spiritual comfort to soldiers. We only have to read Jesuit Father Donald F. Crosby’s Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II (University Press of Kansas, 1994) to appreciate their service.

No doubt many of us have heard the phrase, “there are no atheists in a foxhole.” On the one hand such faith might have emerged during the trial of combat. On the other hand, it may have emerged through participation in a spiritual retreat.

The above picture is such a retreat conducted by Passionist priests. It shows the soldiers’ dramatic renewal of their baptismal vows at a Catholic mission held from May 17-24, 1942 at the Field House, Fort Knox, Kentucky. The priests were Fathers Charles Gaskin, C.P., Andrew Ansboro, C.P, Stephen Paul Kenny, C.P., and Terence Brody, C.P.

One way to reflect on this picture is to do so in the context of Katherine Koch’s article on Father Viktor Koch, C.P. In 1942 Koch’s Catholic witness as a priest was hidden from the German military. In 1942 his brother Passionist priests in the above picture can express and encourage Catholic witness in public forum.

Through the puzzle of history imagination might lead us to ask the following question. Did the strong Catholic faith of Father Koch and that of any United States Catholic soldiers find a moment of zealous conflict? Did not Father Koch believe it just to save the town of Schwarzenfeld? Did not any Catholic soldiers believe it just to destroy part of the town?

We might pause and ask how religion and war exist as companions.

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