The Vatican and the Wichita Diocese plan to quicken the march toward deciding whether a Kansas priest and U.S. Army chaplain will become a Catholic saint.
Wichita Diocese Bishop Carl Kemme plans to lead a Wichita Diocese pilgrimage to Rome in November, where he will describe Father Emil Kapaun’s Korean War heroics and other virtues to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
After that, said diocese priest and judicial vicar John Hotze, the Vatican might decide whether Kapaun will be beatified, an important step toward canonization.
“All of this is a chance to educate ourselves about Father Kapaun and to pray for his intercession in our daily lives,” Hotze said.
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Hotze hopes to complete work in November on documents Kemme will present in Rome.
“Once the bishop presents this, it’s possible in the next year or two that we might hear something” about the next steps toward canonization.
Kapaun, born 99 years ago on a farm near Pilsen in Marion County, was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in April 2013 for heroics Kapaun performed during the Korean War.
Fellow soldiers say he saved hundreds of lives on the battlefield and later in a North Korean prisoner of war camp. He led mostly by example, running through gunfire to rescue wounded soldiers, then giving his own meager rations to starving fellow prisoners.
In one encounter, he interrupted the battlefield execution of Sgt. Herb Miller by knocking aside a Chinese soldier’s rifle. He walked away with Miller on his back.
Kapaun died of illness, starvation and neglect on May 23, 1951; fellow prisoners say Chinese army guards quickened his death through neglect because they resented Kapaun’s prison leadership and his opposition to the brainwashing of fellow prisoners.
Fellow soldiers, most of them Protestant, had spent the past 62 years lobbying the Pentagon for the Medal of Honor and the Catholic Church to make Kapaun a saint. The church investigation of his heroics started when the Korean War ended in 1953. The pace of that work has picked up in recent years.
Hotze spent years interviewing former POWs and soldiers and Pilsen family and acquaintances. The Vatican has repeatedly sent Andrea Ambrosi, a lawyer and investigator, to Wichita since 2009 to study the files.
Ambrosi has studied the information Hotze collected and has questioned doctors and families about what the church calls “alleged miracles.” Several Kansas families, and their doctors, have described to him how several young Kansans recovered from seemingly unrecoverable injuries or illnesses after family and friends prayed for the intercession of Kapaun.
The diocese has scheduled many other events and Kapaun memorials in the coming year. Kapaun devotees, in what has become an annual event, began walking Friday from the Church of the Magdalene in Wichita to Kapaun’s home church, St. John Nepomucene, in Pilsen, 74 miles away. Sunday is Father Kapaun Day in Pilsen.
Kemme has declared the year beginning Sunday as the diocese “Year of Father Kapaun.” Several anniversaries occur in the coming year: Tuesdayis the 75th anniversary of Kapaun’s ordination as a priest at the chapel at Newman University; April 20, 2016, will be the 100th anniversary of Kapaun’s birth; May 23, 2016, will be the 65th anniversary of Kapaun’s death in the prison camp in Pyoktong, North Korea.