In the homily given Sunday at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, Holy Family Parish in Pilsen, the Rev. Monsignor Frank A. Pugliese, Vicar General of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, likened Father Emil Kapaun’s service as a military chaplain to two widows who in Biblical accounts gave their all.
The first account was of the woman who was asked to make a biscuit for the prophet Elijah when she had just a bit of flour and a few teaspoons of oil left for herself and her son before they would starve to death. Elijah told her that if she would prepare it for him, the flour and oil would never run out. And it was so. The second incident was of the widow who put her last two mites into the collection plate at the temple.
Pugliese said two lessons were to be learned from these stories. First, when people run out of their own resources, that’s when they are most likely to welcome God into their lives. Second, when individuals are in touch with God, they become givers and what they give never runs out. It grows.
So it was with Kapaun, Pugliese said.
“Imagine the effect it had on the soldiers (prisoners of war) when they saw him giving so generously even when he was in need,” he said.
The occasion was the ninth annual archdiocesan pilgrimage to Pilsen in honor of Kapaun, who died in a prisoner of war camp in North Korea and is a candidate for sainthood.
The service ended with a prayer for Kapaun and a recitation of the Rosary for veterans and for the protection of those in active military service.
A group of 38 Knights of Columbus led the processional and recessional.
A choir and orchestra from McConnell Air Force Base provided the music. They played and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the recessional.
After the service, a wreath was placed at the front of the church sanctuary beside a woodcarving depicting Father Kapaun and an army doctor helping a wounded soldier off the battlefield. The redwood plaque was brought to Pilsen by John Moore of Gallup, N.M.
According to Rosemary Neuwirth, leader of the Father Kapaun Guild,, Moore asked a friend, Mark Chavez, to do the carving. Chavez also created the statue and crucifix that Moore presented to the Pilsen congregation in previous years.
Chase Kear of Colwich was one of the many guests who attended the Mass. His “miraculous” healing after a pole-vaulting accident in October 2008 is the basis for the case for Father Kapaun’s canonization as a saint.
Now 24, Kear was near tears when interviewed Sunday about his experience. His skull was split from ear to ear in the accident and his brain swelled. Doctors gave little hope for his survival or, if he did survive, to have a normal life.
Kear said he was put on a prayer list to Father Kapaun, and the request was put on Facebook. Family members and people from his home church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Colwich, and others from around the world joined in praying to Father Kapaun for intercession on Kear’s behalf.
“I was in a coma and didn’t know it was happening,” he said.
The accident happened on Oct. 2, 2008, and he walked out of the hospital less than 60 days later. Doctors were stunned at his recovery.
In 2009, a representative of the Vatican went to Colwich to interview Kear, his family, and his doctors. The case for Kapaun’s sainthood is ongoing, but there’s no doubt in Kear’s mind that Kapaun is a saint.
“I’m just a small-town boy, and I wasn’t a perfect Catholic by any means,” he said. “But Father Kapaun’s intercession healed me.”
Mary Anne Grubiak
Although her story is not linked to the cause for Father Kapaun’s sainthood, Mary Anne Grubiak of Wichita feels a special attachment to him. She comes from a military family and grew up at Fort Riley when Kapaun was serving at Pilsen.
She was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer years ago and prayed to Kapaun for help. She was slated for surgery when a doctor intervened and sent her to the Mayo Clinic. A doctor there checked her out and sent her home with a clean bill of health.
“I was shocked,” her husband, Joe, a Navy veteran, said.
Grubiak gives Kapaun the credit for her healing. The couple attend the pilgrimage to Pilsen every year.