To Deacon Chomko, life is a gift, struggles or not

  • October 19, 2011

TORONTO - Armed with the lessons he learned from the Second World War, Polish army veteran Kaz Chomko, who is approaching a milestone 100th birthday, has been spreading the message of peace and the gift of human life in his 35-year hospital ministry as a deacon with the archdiocese of Toronto.

Chomko’s call to the diaconate came in 1976, and he made hospital ministry his call.

“My idea was to (highlight) the value of life. I chose to work with the sick and suffering,” he said.

When speaking to patients, Chomko spoke of how he coped with his own struggles and found inner peace with God.

“I told them that suffering is part of life and whether we like it or not, we have to endure it,” he said.

“I’ve been disabled myself, so I used to say to them, ‘I’m unable to do what you can do and I enjoy my life because the disability I have is not my doing.’ ”

In 1980, Chomko’s arthritis developed into a serious disability which led to his being confined to a wheelchair. He calls this a “gift,” explaining that “anything we have, whether it’s a present or not a present, it all comes from God.”

And although he was never reunited with his family after the war when Poland fell under the Iron Curtain, Chomko never became embittered.

“We can increase our suffering by doing wrong things but if we are living a life we’re supposed to, then we have to accept (life) as a gift,” he explained.

During the war, Chomko worked as a police officer in Poland. When the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, he was automatically recruited into the Polish army. He also fought for the army of the Polish government-in-exile.

As a soldier, Chomko says he developed a personal conviction, based upon his beliefs and devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, not to kill anyone.

It was in the midst of death and destruction at the 1944 Battle of Falaise Gap in France, which was the final and decisive engagement in the Allies’ Normandy campaign, that Chomko made an unconventional military decision: he ordered his troops to take prisoners, not lives.

“I told the three tanks under my command, ‘If you encounter any enemies, don’t kill them. Just shoot above their heads and take them prisoners,’ ” he recalled. “They did that, no question.

“I don’t believe in killing. It’s a commandment.”

He gave the same order to troops while rescuing Dutch civilians being fired at by German soldiers who were hiding in a church steeple. Chomko’s soldiers shot into the church with the aim of scaring the German soldiers out of their hiding place. The German troops eventually surrendered.

In 1947, Chomko immigrated to Canada. After working at a farm, he moved into the life insurance business. That’s where he met his wife, Doris. They have two sons, Richard and Robert.

Chomko’s friend, Anna Carling, has finished writing an unpublished book about him. She calls Chomko a man of peace.

“Through his acceptance with what comes on his path, he responds in a kind of agreeable way. He’s quietly passionate and he loves God,” Carling said.

Chomko turns 100 on Nov. 24.

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