Father Emil Kapaun’s image was on a cake during a reception after the Hall of Heroes induction ceremony for Kapaun at the Pentagon in 2013. Kapaun, who died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama the day before. (April 12, 2013) Travis Heying File photo
Father Emil Kapaun’s image was on a cake during a reception after the Hall of Heroes induction ceremony for Kapaun at the Pentagon in 2013. Kapaun, who died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama the day before. (April 12, 2013) Travis Heying File photo

Father Kapaun

Pilgrimage to Pilsen among events marking Year of Father Kapaun

June 03, 2016 10:56 AM

People armed with suntan lotion and Band-Aids to treat blisters are trudging north from Wichita right now.

They gathered at the Church of the Magdalen in Wichita on Thursday and began walking. They are still walking.

Sixty miles and three days later, Sunday, on Father Kapaun Day, they will walk into the town of Pilsen, the hometown near the farm where the priest and U.S. Army war hero they honor was born 100 years ago.

They will rest and pray in the church where Kapaun served, first as an altar boy, then as a parish priest.

Two hundred people made the walk last year, said the Rev. John Hotze, the priest who has investigated Kapaun’s qualifications for sainthood.

Father Emil Kapaun’s popularity as a priest and religious inspiration grows year after year, now 65 years since his death in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp.

Hundreds of people show up every year in Pilsen for the walk to Pilsen and Father Kapaun Day; the Mass in Pilsen on Sunday will start at 3 p.m.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita, which employed Kapaun as a small-town parish priest before he went off to war, declared this year to be the Year of Father Kapaun, and had good turnouts at every event marking it.

There are still events coming up.

There will be a Mass at 6 p.m. on Thursday at St. John’s Chapel at Newman University, where Kapaun was ordained 76 years ago. A dinner will follow the mass, and Hotze will speak about items of interest about Kapaun, including tentative plans to establish a Father Kapaun Center in his hometown.

The center might be necessary to take on large groups of visitors.

President Obama in 2013 posthumously awarded Kapaun the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for his valor during Korean War battles leading up to his capture in November 1950. And Hotze has contributed thousands of research documents he collected over many years, outlining the facts of Kapaun’s earthly and spiritual life.

VIDEO: Wichita bishop presents Kapaun cause to cardinal at Vatican

Bishop Carl Kemme presented the official position on the life of Father Emil Kapaun to Cardinal Angelo Amato at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican on Monday. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

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The Vatican has sought those documents and sent an investigator to Wichita several times as the church considers whether to make Kapaun a saint.

VIDEO: Father Kapaun saves Herb Miller's life

Wounded and lying in a roadside ditch, Herb Miller was facing execution before a heroic act by chaplain Emil Kapaun saved his life.

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VIDEO: Kapaun's fellow prisoner calls him the 'Prince of Thieves'

Bob McGreevy was imprisoned in a North Korean P.O.W. camp with Father Emil Kapaun. McGreevy talks about Kapaun's skill for stealing food from the guards.

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VIDEO: Prisoner recounts first meeting with Father Kapaun

William Funchess of Clemson, South Carolina talks about the first time he met Father Emil Kapaun in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951.

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VIDEO: Mike Dowe meets Father Kapaun

Mike Dowe describes the first time he met Father Emil Kapaun in Korea.

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Roy Wenzl: 316-268-6219, @roywenzl

Year of Father Kapaun

Thursday, June 2: Pilgrimage to Pilsen. Began Thursday at the Church of the Magdalen, 12626 E. 21st St. North. Ends on Sunday, June 5 in Pilsen.

3 p.m. Sunday, June 5: Mass in St. John Nepomucene Church, Pilsen.

6 p.m. Thursday, June 9: Mass in St. John’s Chapel, Newman University, Wichita, where Emil Kapaun was ordained a priest in 1940. 7:15 p.m. dinner to follow, with the Rev. John Hotze speaking.

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