Camino: Side Pilgrimage to an Army Chaplain

Along a Camino, you meet good friends. The Camino de Immaculata is both spiritual and physical. It takes place simultaneously in Kansas and in people’s hearts. One of the best friends to have is Kansas’s very own, the Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun, a hero of the Korean War.

On April 11, 2013, former President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Kapaun, credited with saving hundreds of soldiers during the Korean War, the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Army)

Fr. Kapaun has been a brother and a father to me and some dear friends in many ways. And ever since he returned home to his final resting place, I wanted to say a special hello to him and lay down some discernment burdens before him.

Keep reading to see a neat connection and the artwork captured at his tomb.

Fr. Kapaun was born in Pilsen, KS to Bohemian parents. He eventually became a priest. He then was able to fulfill his desire to “spend himself for God” as an army chaplain in WWII in Burma and India, and then in Korea. 

In Korea, he saw the horrors of war and risked his life constantly to bring God in the form of the sacraments and care to his men until he himself was captured by communists along with the rest of the men of the 8th Cavalry Regiment in 1950.

From my travels to Wichita

Forced on a brutal death march in bitter temperatures to a prison camp at Pyoktong, North Korea, Father’s cheer and perseverance pushed men to endure and stay alive when death was the easy way out.

In the communist prison camp, in spite of suffering extra persecution because he was a priest, Fr. Kapaun was truly a Father to his ‘boys.’

He nursed them, encouraged them, foraged for them, prayed with and for them. He picked lice off them, cleaned terrible wounds, and washed the clothes of those too weak to control their own bowel movements.

The last small statue that imitates a giant one, modeled after an actual photo of Father assisting a fellow wounded soldier.

Fr. Kapaun was a reincarnation of the 5th station of the cross: Simon of Cyrene helping Christ carry the cross. He saw Christ in his fellow men and helped each carry their own personal crosses. “A Brother helped by another brother is like a strong fortress (Proverbs 18:19).”

On “May 23, 1951, alone in the Death House [where the very ill were left to die] and only 35 years old, Father Kapaun breathed his last, his body utterly spent from his service to his men.”

It would be another 70 years before his bones found their rest in his native Kansas, the heart of the United States.

If you go to Pilsen, his hometown, there’s a ceremonial crucifix, Christ on the cross, standing in the aisle.

As a young boy Fr. used to carry it when serving in high Masses.

As a priest, he held the crucified Christ.

As a man, he helped his fellow as they were crucified on their own crosses.

In heaven, maybe that’s what we’ll find him doing, holding the triumphant symbol of our life over death, as in the painting of the man clothed in white, in the cathedral where he is laid to rest -when he’s not showing the Apostles how to smoke a corncob pipe!

The night before I made the pilgrimage Br. Marcel, another pilgrimage friend, and a master artist, came over and brought a flyer of the liturgical artistry of Evergreene Architectural Studios. (Evergreene is doing the artwork inside the new Immaculata, and at that time I had an opportunity to work with the company, possibly in the new Immaculata!)

My eyes opened very wide when I realized the design on the cover was that of the interior of Wichita’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception! It was like God saying “Yup, go there! See Fr. Kapaun, and the cathedral’s art as a prefigurement of the New Immaculata!”

One side of the painting (the other was too dark for a good picture)

So I took the journey south to Wichita.

You know when you’re excited to do something and then the entire time things go not as anticipated? Well, this trip was that. Odd and ‘off’ for various reasons. I had several fun parts planned out after visiting Father, but it all sounded dull and heavy. The only thing I wanted to do was to stay by his tomb. It felt like home.

On the long road back home, the burdens I laid before him were not evaporated. They intensified, and yet Fr. Kapaun’s arm helped shoulder the load and he made sure I was on the right path.

Now we’ve come to a new season: Lent! May Fr. Kapaun and Our Lady help you carry your packs in this mountain range of the Liturgical year as we do battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil!

If you’d like to learn more about this heroic army chaplain whose cause for beatification is being made in the Catholic Church, check out the books below!  (When you click the picture link above, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.)

This one is a good fast overview.

This one is a little more in-depth than the first.

 The above book was written almost completely from letters and personal accounts of those to whom Chaplain Kaupan provided spiritual guidance, mentorship, and comfort. I thought it let you glimpse a deeper look into his soul/

The north belltower on 2/27/22. She’s almost all ‘dressed!’

Thanks to the Catholic Diocese of Wichita and http://www.frkapaun.org for quotes and information!

Thank YOU dear reader for reading and viewing! Have you heard of Fr. Kapaun before?


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