Group plans 60-mile walk to hometown of Father Emil Kapaun

To honor an inspiring hero last year, Catholic priest Eric Weldon walked 60 miles from Wichita to Pilsen wearing old tennis shoes.

It took three days; they walked 20 miles a day. He paid for it in pain.

"In the Catholic church we pray with our bodies," Weldon said. "All those Catholic aerobics in church."

Suffering to honor a potential saint is a religious tradition dating back thousands of years. Making poor choices about shoes is another matter.

Starting Friday, Weldon and 35 other pilgrims will begin a three-day, 60-mile walk to Pilsen, honoring the heroic Father Emil Kapaun. He'll wear sensible walking shoes this time.

Anyone wanting to join the pilgrimage to Pilsen can call the WSU Newman Center at 316-684-6896 to make arrangements. The pilgrims plan to walk toward Pilsen starting after 6:30 a.m. Mass on Friday at Church of the Magdalen, 12626 E. 21st St.

The walk last year, the first walking pilgrimage, was the start of what Weldon hopes will become a strenuous and annual tradition in Kansas: a rigorous 60-mile march to honor the U.S. Army chaplain and Pilsen native who walked a lot farther in 1950, saving lives and carrying wounded soldiers on a long march to prison camps in North Korea.

Kapaun died in a North Korean prison camp in May 1951. Fellow soldiers say he saved hundreds of lives, first on the battlefields, then later on the marches to prison camps after capture, then later in the camps where he stole food from guards and inspired hundreds of men to survive starvation and resist Communist indoctrination.

Walkers are asked to bring water bottles or canteens, sunscreen, snacks, a tent, sleeping bag — and good walking shoes. The group will camp in Whitewater the first night, and then in south Marion County the second night. They plan to arrive at Kapaun's hometown and his St. John Nepomucene church in Pilsen in time for Mass at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 6.

Volunteers are needed: drivers to help look after the walkers and bring food and water. Meals will be provided.

Weldon, the pastor at St. Paul Parish at the Newman Center, and three other people walked the full 60 miles last year, meeting up with seven more walkers along the way.

They will start this time with 35 walkers — and two nurses who have volunteered to keep an eye on the health of those taking part.

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