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