Father Lazar Carasala creates a memorable Palm Sunday by riding a donkey to church
by Jessica Langdon
VALLEY FALLS — A child just doesn’t want to miss some things in life — like watching a priest ride a living, breathing donkey, as Jesus would have ridden into Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago.
Larry and Joyce Heinen’s 7-year-old grandson Jack lives in Topeka, but often goes to Mass with his grandparents at Immaculate Conception Parish in Valley Falls.
When Jack heard that Father Lazar Carasala was going to process in on a donkey on Palm Sunday, he arranged to spend the weekend in town.
“I bet he won’t forget seeing the priest ride a donkey; that’s something you just don’t see,” said Larry Heinen. “I think it adds a lot. We had real good participation from the congregation itself.”
Father Carasala, parochial administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Nortonville, Immaculate Conception in Valley Falls, and Corpus Christi Parish in Mooney Creek, led two processions atop the donkey on March 29, first at St. Joseph and later at Immaculate Conception.
A picture is worth a thousand words, he said. When an action — like this one — is involved, the experience can last a lifetime.
Processions and reenactments are part of the Catholic culture of his native India, where he credits his home parish and the faith it fueled for a high number of religious vocations.
There, his friend and fellow priest rode the donkey, while he worked with youth on a three-mile reenactment of Christ’s journey to Calvary.
Now in Kansas, the idea for this year’s procession struck him when he saw two donkeys on his way to the airport.
“That’s a little different,” Heinen admits to thinking when he first heard this was going to happen. But he was game.
“It’s a good different,” he said.
Just as Jesus asked two of his disciples to go find a colt for his journey into Jerusalem, Father Carasala enlisted two parishioners to secure a donkey.
The mission fell to Bob Weishaar, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus at St. Joseph, and his grandson Colby Weishaar.
Ruling out a lot of options, the elder Weishaar suddenly remembered a donkey he’d seen on the way to Oskaloosa.
The owner agreed to trade her pet’s services for a bale of hay.
“She was just tickled for us to do something with the donkey,” said Weishaar.
This one was different from the animals Father Carasala had seen in India, however.
“First thing he said was, ‘It’s too big,’” said Weishaar.
Father Carasala test-rode the donkey a few times as they prepared for the big day and decided the donkey would do.
“I was one of the lucky ones who walked fairly close alongside the burro,” said Aloysius Funk, a member of St. Joseph Parish. “If anything happened, we could come to Father’s rescue.”
But that wasn’t necessary.
“It was unbelievably tame,” he said.
The donkey didn’t seem to mind all the singing as the parishioners processed to the churches.
And in retrospect, parishioners agreed it was a unforgettable event.
“Father said he wanted to do this because it would make Palm Sunday more memorable for the children,” said Dianna Welsh, secretary for the parishes. “I think it made it just as memorable for the adults, too!”
That includes a woman in her 90s who wouldn’t miss it.
“She had her lawn chair out by her car and sat and watched the procession,” said Welsh.
With social media and word of mouth, the Catholic churches quickly became the talk of the town, said Funk.
“I’m so happy that children can participate and they can visualize this one,” said Father Carasala, who is making even more plans for the future.
Funk loves seeing Father Carasala’s ideas at work, especially when it makes connections with the younger crowd.
“Hopefully, this will create some special memories that will keep them involved,” said Funk.