Walking with a saint
Pilgrimage continues cause for Father Kapaun
The weather was merciless this weekend as a band of walkers made their way across more than 60 miles of county roads.
Catholics and protestants, men and women, young and old, came from all walks of life to walk for a priest who died helping others.
Their destination Sunday was Pilsen, the home of Father Emil Kapaun who was a prisoner of war in Korea where he served as a chaplain.
Kapaun is being considered for sainthood because of his selfless actions and inspiration in the Korean War and in POW camps.
Although the 58 participants weren’t as many as in previous years, the enthusiasm and faith never wavered. Walkers came from Wichita, western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The 60-mile walk over the three-day period was to symbolize walking in the shoes of Kapaun. He and other soldiers were forced to walk 20 miles per day for more than 14 days to reach a prisoner-of-war camp during the Korean War. Kapaun ministered to troops during the war, saying Mass from the hoods of jeeps, being captured by the enemy, and eventually giving his life in a POW camp.
The first leg of the walk began Friday morning at Church of the Magdalene in Wichita. Walkers spent the first night 3 miles north of Whitewater.
The second day was the worst for the walkers. It was a scorcher with temperatures nearing 100 degrees and walking on hot asphalt wasn’t easy. It was decided by leaders to take a break from the heat.
“As they were heading for shade, it began to rain,” J.P. Brunke of Wichita said.
The cool rain refreshed the walkers and they were able to continue.
Brunke was in a van leading the walkers when he saw them coming up the gravel road.
“It wasn’t raining where I was but I could see this rain cloud following the walkers as they walked down the road,” he said. “It was incredible.”
The group spent the night in Aulne before making the final trek Sunday morning to Pilsen.
Hundreds of the faithful attended Mass at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. John Nepomucene Church-Holy Family Parish in Pilsen, Kapaun’s home parish.
Among the walkers of the last 20 miles to Pilsen was Chase Kear. He was the Andale pole-vaulter who believes Kapaun interceded to help him recover from life-threatening injuries.
“I’m not that tough,” Kear said Sunday at Pilsen. “I knew I couldn’t do that on my own.”
These days, Kear has a full-time job on a grounds crew at Goddard High School.
This was Tom Truman’s first pilgrimage. The Kechi resident works outdoors and does a lot of walking for his business.
“I felt I needed to do this,” he said.
Veronica Hill of Wichita recently became a Catholic.
“This gave me time to reflect,” she said.
Molly Riechenberger of Andale said it was an experience she won’t soon forget.
“It’s worth the sacrifice of time and pain,” she said, “to be able to walk for my faith, sacrificing myself for a great cause, and attending mass. It also brings more awareness to sainthood (for Kapaun). I want to do it again.”
Steps to sainthood
For the past two years, Marion County Catholics have been leading the way to have one of their own be named to sainthood. For the past year or more, the Wichita Catholic dioceses has been assisting in the cause.
Thousands of pages of information, testimony, and evidence have been collected and will be taken to Rome, the next step in sainthood for Kapaun.
A special ceremony and Mass will be 5 p.m. July 1 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 E. Central St., Wichita.
In Rome, the information will be reviewed and a determination will be made if indeed the priest from Marion County is deserving of sainthood.
Kapaun was born April 20, 1916, to Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun on a farm three miles southwest of Pilsen.
He graduated in June 1936 from Conception College in Conception, Mo., and was ordained in June 1940 at Kendrick Theological Seminary, St. Louis.
He returned to Pilsen after ordination and assisted the parish priest until he was appointed parish pastor in December 1943.
Kapaun volunteered with the Army and was sent to India in April 1945. He was promoted to captain in 1945 and returned to the U.S.
He then was appointed pastor of a church in Timkin, and re-enlisted in the Army in 1948.
In July 1950, Kapaun’s unit was stationed in South Korea when Chinese forces captured him in November 1950.
While captured, the priest ministered to the dead and dying, performed baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated Mass.
Despite personal physical suffering, Kapaun continued to attend to the sick and wounded.
He died of pneumonia May 23, 1951.