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Pilgrimage draws hundreds to Pilsen

Managing editor

With aching feet and tired muscles, a group of 70 walkers arrived Sunday morning at Pilsen, to be joined later by hundreds for a special Mass.

The 60-mile walk over a three-day period was to walk in the shoes of Pilsen native and sainthood candidate Father Emil Kapaun.

Kapaun 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, all the while serving the Lord.

The group began its pilgrimage with 34 walkers at 6:30 a.m. Friday from the Church of the Magdalene in Wichita, staying Friday night in Whitewater, and Saturday night in Aulne before reaching their destination. By the time the group was completing its last leg Sunday morning, it was 70 members strong.

“The purpose of the pilgrimage is to engage in spirited journey with our bodies in honor of Father Kapaun and promote his cause for sainthood,” organizer and Catholic priest Eric Weldon said Sunday morning during a break from the walk on Remington Road, southwest of Marion. “We are walking in holiness.”

This is the second year for the pilgrimage. Weldon started with four walkers last year and ended with 11.

Sunday’s walkers ranged in ages from 10 to 65, representing more than a dozen parishes in Wichita, Andale, Schulte, and Marion County.

Laura Klenda of Lincolnville joined the group Friday afternoon; Denise Bina of Marion joined the walk Sunday.

“I was asked to participate and so I did,” Klenda said.

She couldn’t join them until later because she was with Centre High School students at the state FFA convention in Manhattan.

“I want to support the Father Kapaun effort,” Klenda said.

Bina did it to honor Father Kapaun and to experience the spiritual pilgrimage.

“We are so busy that we rarely take time to listen,” she said, to nature or to God. “God’s talking to us all of the time but sometimes we can’t hear Him.”

Bina said she enjoyed the morning walk, having the opportunity to listen to nature and pray with the other walkers.

“We’ve prayed two rosaries so far,” she said.

Among the walkers was Chase Kear of Colwich who was severely injured in a pole vaulting accident in 2008. He and his family had been featured on the television show “20/20” and believe Kear recovered from the near-fatal accident because of intercession by Father Kapaun.

The Kear family has been interviewed by church officials regarding the case for Kapaun’s sainthood.

Saturday’s hot weather took its toll on one walker, causing him heat exhaustion. But the walker had recovered by Sunday and took his place with the group.

An entourage of a small bus, van, and passenger car followed the group, offering medical aid, snacks, drinks, and cool respite as needed.

A lunch was provided Saturday in Peabody and Marion County Knights of Columbus grilled hamburgers and hot dogs Saturday night. The group camped at Aulne Methodist Church grounds Saturday night. The church remained open during the night in case of storms.

Mass was held at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. John Nepomucene Church-Holy Family Parish in Pilsen in honor of Kapaun.

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 diocese has been assisting in the cause.

The Roman Catholic Church’s process leading to canonization involves three major steps.

First is the declaration of a person’s heroic virtues. After which the church gives him the title of “venerable.”

The second step is beatification, when he would be called “blessed.”

The third step is canonization or declaration of sainthood.

At various steps in the canonization process, evidence of miracles is presented to church authorities. In general, two miracles need to be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint.

Church authorities have interviewed individuals regarding possible miracles with reports being reviewed by the Vatican.

About Father Kapaun

Kapaun was born April 20, 1916, to Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun, on a farm three miles southwest of Pilsen.

He graduated from Conception College in Conception, Mo., in June 1936 and was ordained at Kendrick Theological Seminary, St. Louis, in June 1940.

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 1946 and returned to the U.S.

He was appointed pastor of a church in Timken, reenlisting in the Army in 1948.

In July 1950, Kapaun’s unit was stationed in South Korea and Chinese Communists captured him in November 1950.

While captured, the priest administered 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.

Last modified June 10, 2010

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