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Kabul's Brief Patron Saint
A Personal Story About an Effort for Peace in a World at War
This is a special newsletter in which I share a deployment story that will forever be a part of me. While this story is part of why I have started writing scifi, there is no science fiction in the main article so feel free to skip to the Risen preview.
Join Intelligence Officer Brendan Sean Murphy as he voyages into space in a struggle for peace and his own sanity. My first novel Fallen is available for $0.99 on Kindle, free on Kindle Unlimited, and $19.95 on paperback!
Fallen will be coming off Kindle Unlimited on October 26. This will allow the book to be sold on other platforms!
Blessed Karl of Afghanistan
“Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven.” -then Prince Karl to his wife Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma on their wedding night.
The actions and trauma of deployment drive the stories of Fallen and Risen as well as the lives of many of those who have served in the armed forces and other government agencies. Brendan’s desire for peace was derived from my own time overseas. This is part of my own story.
Introduction to Blessed Karl
Karl (1887-1922) was the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Living a sort of European royal carefree life, he dedicated himself to his wife, growing family, and Catholicism. However, the assassination of his uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand thrust the country into World War I and made Karl the heir to the throne. In late 1916, Karl became emperor upon the death of Franz Joseph.
As emperor, Karl wrote to all sides offering to end the war status quo antebellum. While the pope and American President Wilson, who was then still nominally neutral, supported the cessation of conflict, the other warring powers did not. Failing that, Karl sought to use extended family connections to make peace offerings covertly. Once this came to light, Germany took over much of the empire’s decision-making process, leaving Karl as a figurehead. The war ends, the empire collapses, and Karl is exiled to Switzerland.
Karl twice attempted to return to the throne of Hungary, which restored the monarchy via a regent. However, the risks of civil war persuaded Karl to abandon the efforts. As punishment for his attempts, the World War I Allies exiled Karl to the Portuguese island of Madeira. There, Karl focuses on caring for Zita and their eight children. However, in 1922, he became sick due to poor living conditions and died at the age of 34.
For a more in-depth biography Karl, I recommend the below secular biography of him.
Pope John Paul II declared Karl “blessed” in 2004, which is the step before sainthood in the Catholic Church. John Paul II praised Karl’s efforts for peace and his focus on his family life. It was these qualities that attracted me to Karl. Seeing war firsthand in Iraq and Afghanistan was more than enough for me to desire peace. Additionally, family trauma after deployments also gave me the foundation to see Karl’s and my struggles united together. A warrior who wanted peace and to take care of his family. What wasn’t to like?
Karl’s Brief Time as Patron of Kabul
I deployed to Camp Resolute Support in Kabul in 2019 as part of an effort to achieve a peace deal with the Taliban. There, I also intended to reactivate a Knights of Columbus group known as a roundtable. My local council ran a grouping of Knights in Kabul that came together to pray and collect donations and supplies for the Missionaries of Charity, sometimes called the “Mother Teresa nuns.” The Missionaries of Charity sisters ran an orphanage in Kabul since 2006. Previously, the roundtable was named after Saint Martin of Tours, the patron of military chaplains. However, since I was in charge of restarting things, I renamed the roundtable after Blessed Karl to support peace efforts and stress pastoral care for people and their families.
The Blessed Karl Roundtable started with a little blurb published by the Blessed Karl Prayer League. This notice sparked a tidal wave of interest in Catholic men who wanted to join. The Catholic military chaplains, who were Czech, spread the word to non-Americans who wished for opportunities for fellowship and charity.
What was surprising, though, was when the Czech embassy in Kabul reached out. This turned heads as Czechia and its military take pride and identities with the Czech exiles who opposed Austria-Hungary politically and in the pro-Allies/anti-Austria-Hungary Czechoslovak Legion. However, the number two at the embassy had a devotion to Blessed Karl and wanted to loan a first-class relic (a tiny sliver of bone) to the roundtable.
Additionally, the Protestant military chaplain learned of Blessed Karl. She wanted to use his example in her preaching about being dedicated to working for peace and taking care of one’s family while at war and back home.
In late July 2019, a joint Catholic-Protestant service was held in base’s chapel. The service prayed for peace, citing Karl’s example. Americans, Czechs, and Indian Missionaries of Charity sisters stationed in Kabul attended. At the end of the service, a rock with a plaque dedicated to peace and Karl was placed in a little garden area next to the chapel.
For months, I would make a 0200 (2 AM) trip to the chapel every night to pray. I made sure to pray to God for peace and to ask Karl to pray for peace, my family, and my protection.
Devotion spread throughout the base. Masses in Kabul featured Blessed Karl’s relic, which was available for blessings after services and during Holy Hours. Catholics, Protestants, and even atheists joined roundtable efforts by having families and schools back home donate supplies for the orphanage. Most importantly, prayers for everyone in Kabul were offered daily. As several Catholic leaders said, Karl had become “the patron saint of Kabul.”
The Emirate Only Destroys
However, Blessed Karl’s time in Kabul was limited like his reign in Austria-Hungary. In 2021, the facade of Afghan government control collapsed as the United States and its allies withdrew from Afghanistan. The fall of the provincial capital of Zaranj on August 6 started the final collapse that ended with the fall of Kabul on August 15.
Previously, there had been discussions of keeping Camp Resolute Support as part of the U.S. embassy compound after most of the military had withdrawn. However, the Taliban’s advance forced a rapid evacuation. While the Czechs were able to take the relic, the plaque and most of the chapel were left behind. Most of the retreat effort focused on destroyed sensitive video equipment, as this video taken near the chapel shows.
For over a year, I had no idea what happened to the chapel and plaque to Blessed Karl. Then, through a chain of people who served with me and their Afghan family members, I discovered the truth: the chapel was gutted of its wiring and became a looted shell while the plaque and rock were gone. The little garden was torn apart, too. The Missionaries of Charity held on for a while as the Taliban allowed them to stay, but later threats from the Islamic State (ISIS) forced the sisters to abandon the orphanage. The Taliban allowed them to take fourteen disabled children with them. However, over 50 healthy children were unable to leave because of Taliban restrictions.
The Journey Forward
Right now, an embroidered sweater and a T-Wall model are the only remaining physical memories I have of the Blessed Kabul Roundtable. Looking at them while typing this entry has created a storm of emotions within my soul. Like others who have served in lost wars, tides of war-related stress come and go and will continue to haunt me. I hope the point of Blessed Karl’s brief time as the unofficial patron of Kabul gave comfort to the orphans and sisters who cared for them, helped soldiers and others preserve family bonds, and helped me during my dark times. Maybe, some hope can return to Kabul and the world (though as I write this another war is breaking out in the Middle East). But that’s the life of warriors; we live not knowing what the next year or even what tomorrow will bring. We journey into a mysterious world full of danger while working for hope and seeking the help of friends. Brendan’s journey is all of our journeys.
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The blue-green-brown orb hangs in the sky. It seems motionless while moving at over sixty-seven thousand miles an hour. Yet, for all the activity, it's the cosmic dance; the planet stays there, neither rising nor setting.
Cold, thin aluminum foil-like wrappings cling to Brendan's arms and legs as he readjusts his body and lies down on the Moon's surface. His maneuvering frees up the wrappings around his torso, loosening its hold on his chest. The feel of the granular soil presses against his back, though he finds the lack of audible sound outside his suit and the thin translucent oval helmet with a flat back disconcerting. Keeping his eyes still on the Earth, he stretches out his arms out in front of him and then lets them drop down to his sides. Despite the suit’s hold on him, his freedom of movement is complete.
He finds a surprising amount of cloud cover over the distant sphere's surface, though Africa and some of South America are discernable. All the beauty he once saw in maps pale compared to the beauty of the real thing. Brendan lets out a laugh. Then, nodding his head within the helmet ever so gently, he chuckles again. I am on the moon!
Very Short Fiction
VSS365 and ScifiFri Words: training and recovery
Techno beats were the only thing pumping aboard the spacecraft. While Yekaterina kept moving the dumbbells, to claim she was lifting them was a stretch.
"Strength training in zero gravity is cheating," she thought, "but the recovery days can't be beat!
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Until Next Time
Thank you for reading this newsletter update. Next time, we’ll have a “fun” Halloween themed newsletter where I will share my own stories of high strangeness. Then, we will continue the religion and aliens series by looking at Islam (see previous editions of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism and other Christian Groups).
As always, feel free to leave a comment with any questions, reviews, thoughts, whatever about Fallen, Risen, or whatever else I have discussed; I promise to reply!