A saintly march
Kapaun faithful make annual pilgrimage to Pilsen
“Physically challenging, spiritually uplifting.”
That, in a nutshell, is how Jeff Cady of Marion described his experience as a participant in the Father Kapaun Pilgrimage this past week.
The annual walk from Wichita to Pilsen began Thursday and culminated Sunday in Father Kapaun Day at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen.
When the walk began, participants carried on light talk with each other, Cady said. Then conversation moved to why they were doing it, and finally to stories about situations that needed prayerful intercession.
Everyone had something that inspired him or her to walk.
Somewhere along the way, military chaplains and priests who accompanied them called for quiet time.
“The quiet time was so powerful,” Cady said. “All you could hear were the footsteps on the road. There was no interference from cell phones or anything else. You could meditate and pray.”
At stops along the way, chaplains and priests would share stories about Chaplain Kapaun’s experiences in the Korean War.
“The story of Father Kapaun really opened up on this walk,” Cady said. “How he gave of himself, and me thinking, why can’t we do the same?”
Cady and his wife, Theresa, weren’t sure how to prepare for the trip.
“We walked four or five miles a day, three or four days a week, for three weeks, but it wasn’t enough,” Cady said.
Thursday was the hardest day, he said, because walkers traveled 22½ miles in hot weather with no wind and no shade.
By Thursday evening, Cady was tired.
“I think I’m done,” he said to himself. “I can’t go another day.”
However, after eating a meal and taking a shower, he felt better. His body was sore, but he was determined to continue.
It was hard to get up the next morning, but as soon as the walk started again, he was fine.
It went a little better than the previous day. Although the heat index was higher, there was a slight breeze, and they walked just 14 miles.
After a 16-mile walk on Saturday, the weather had moderated. Walkers camped at the Alvin Kroupa farm west of Marion and awoke cold. They were eight miles from their destination.
“My wife shared a couple of sweatshirts with two girls,” Cady said.
A 1943 Ford military jeep owned and driven by Robert Novak of Lost Springs, who escorted them to Pilsen, met the more than 100 who walked the final leg.
The jeep played a significant part because it is the same make and model of a vehicle Chaplain Emil Kapaun used to minister sacraments to soldiers on the battlefield. He had draped a cloth over the hood of the jeep to provide a serving table.
“It was exciting to get to Pilsen, where people were waiting for us, clapping and high-fiving us in welcome,” Cady said. “It felt really good and took away the tiredness for a while.”
The walk concluded with an 11 a.m. Mass conducted by Bishop Carl Kemme of the Wichita diocese.
Cady said he would always remember the people he met and the stories they told.
“By the time you are done, you feel what they are going through,” he said. “My prayer life has improved so much.”
Would he do it again?
“If you would have asked me Sunday morning, I would have said, ‘No,’” he said Tuesday. “I was tired. Now, after a few days, I want to do it again. It’s the spiritual side that keeps people coming back. For that, I’ll do it again.”
He plans to be better prepared by walking more and for longer distances.
“It was a moving experience,” he said.