Group includes veteran who served with the chaplain
LINCOLN (SNR/CNA) – A group of men representing four Lincoln parishes traveled to Pilsen, Kan., the home of Korean War hero Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun Oct. 21.
The trip was the second annual pilgrimage for men organized by Jeremy Ekeler, principal of Cathedral of the Risen Christ School in Lincoln.
Father Kapaun served as a chaplain in the US. Army and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously in 2013. He is on the road to canonization in the Church.
Among the men who attended the Oct. 21 pilgrimage was Ezekiel P. Gandara of St. Michael Parish in Lincoln, who served in Korea with Father Kapaun from July 20, 1950 to November 7, 1952.
“Even all these years later I have so many questions about my fellow soldiers and this war,” Gandara said. “But today, many were answered by the amazing life of Kapaun. He’s truly a hero destined for sainthood.”
Gandara’s son Tim drove in from Denver to spend the day with his father and the pilgrims as all were regaled with stories by Ezekiel and the tour guides.
Father Timothy Danek from St. Peter Parish in Lincoln celebrated Mass at the same altar where Kapaun served and later celebrated Mass during the trip.
“Today was a day for us men to step away from the bustle of life,” Father Danek said, “and be inspired by a true man. Father Kapaun abandoned his life to God and allowed the Holy Spirit to direct his every brave and miraculous action. While not yet pronounced a saint by our Church, the day is coming and we can all say we walked on holy ground. Just as he touched so many men during his service, we leave this pilgrimage better for Kapaun’s inspiration.”
Father Kapaun was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita in June 1940. He served as a U.S. Army chaplain from 1944-46, and re-joined the military chaplaincy in 1948. He was sent to Korea in 1950, where he became known for his service with the U.S. Army’s Eighth Cavalry regiment.
The priest would stay up at night to write letters home on behalf of wounded soldiers.
He was captured by Chinese soldiers at Unsan in North Korea. As a prisoner, the priest carried a fellow prisoner 60 miles, even though the man weighed 20 pounds more than he did. He would share food and wash the clothes of other prisoners.
After he was placed in a prisoner of war camp, Father Kapaun helped his fellow prisoners solve problems and keep up morale. His efforts helped them to survive in a harsh winter. For those who did not survive, he helped bury their corpses. Kapaun celebrated the sacraments for his fellow prisoners, hear their confessions, and celebrate Mass.
The priest eventually developed a blood clot in his leg and fell ill with dysentery and pneumonia. He died May 23, 1951 and was buried in a mass grave on the Yalu River.
In April 2013, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military honor.
In 2016, six historical consultants of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints have evaluated the documents in Father Kapaun’s case for completeness and accuracy, and they were approved.
Theological consultants are reviewing the priest’s writings and teachings for conformity with Catholic doctrine and teaching, in order that his heroic virtue might be approved and Father Kapaun given the title “Venerable.”
Separately, medical consultants are examining evidence of alleged miracles attributed to the priest’s intervention. One miracle must be approved for Father Kapaun’s beatification, and a second for his canonization.