Pilgrims prepare for 4-day walk to Pilsen
Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of pilgrims will walk and pray for four days this week to honor the memory of sainthood candidate Father Emil Kapaun.
The 11th annual Father Kapaun Pilgrimage will begin Thursday in Wichita and end Sunday with an 11 a.m. Mass on Kapaun Day at St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen, Kapaun’s hometown.
“The Pilgrimage is a great opportunity to get outside of our normal routine and encounter God and Father Kapaun in a new way,” said Scott Carter, coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild. “When we slow down and walk, we come to realize that our whole life is a journey to heaven, and that God and Father Kapaun are with us each step of the way. The pilgrimage opens us up to receive so many graces for our daily lives.”
The Pilsen Altar Society is planning to serve a meal after Mass and laying a wreath at the Father Kapaun statue. President Terry Klenda said people from Marion and Florence also would be involved.
“Father Kapaun served everybody, so we try to include everybody,” Klenda said.
Teen-agers are in charge of the parking lot, and youngsters help carry trays to the kitchen.
When it’s all over, everybody, including husbands, pitches in to clean up the kitchen and dining area.
“Everybody works wonderfully together,” Klenda said. “It’s a big event but not too stressful anymore.”
The women were preparing enough food for 325 people.
Father Jim Weldon of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wichita said it would be difficult to estimate the number of participants in this year’s pilgrimage. The average is 200.
“It fluctuates because people show up on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday,” he said.
One thing for sure is that it has grown exponentially since Weldon started the event.
“The first time there were four of us,” he said.
Whether in a spiritual or physical sense, the pilgrimage has value on multiple levels, Weldon said.
“For those who are athletes, runners, or walkers, it’s a new spiritual experience because of the drive for doing it,” he said.
People from across the country get involved.
“We’ve had a Navy chaplain walk with us twice, and the Army chief of chaplains at West Point closely relates to the event.”
John Brunke, who used to work with Weldon and was an early participant, walks most years.
“Each year is new,” Brunke said. “At least 50 percent of the people have never been before.”
Brunke said he’s noticed increasing participation by people in the military.
“The military is big on those who gave everything — those who sacrificed their lives,” he said.
On the first day, pilgrims will walk 22 miles and camp at a farm two miles north of Whitewater; the second day, 14 miles to Peabody City Park; and the third day, 16.5 miles to the Alvin Kroupa farm, one mile west and one-half mile north of Marion. Support vehicles with camping and other supplies will follow them every day.
Pilgrims will walk nine miles Sunday morning to Pilsen and arrive in time for 11 a.m. Mass.
Each day on the road will provide a daily Mass and times for prayer and meditation.
A van will pick up pilgrims who cannot walk but want to participate.
Those not participating are encouraged to pray to Father Kapaun every day, to fast, and to say rosaries.
Servant of God Emil Kapaun died in 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp. His heroic actions in caring for his fellow prisoners resulted in a Congressional Medal of Honor awarded by President Barack Obama in 2013.
A cause for his canonization has begun and is under consideration by the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints.