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Fr. Emil Kapaun annual pilgrimage departs Wichita for Pilsen

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 5:35 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update Thursday afternoon, June 3, 2021: As the Catholic Diocese of Wichita seeks sainthood for Fr. Emil Kapaun, believers on Thursday, began an annual pilgrimage in memory and honor of the Army chaplain who died as a prisoner of war in Korea in May of 1951. Kapaun, captured in Korea, continued his ministry until his death. His remains were identified in March and in September, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita said his remains will e flown to Wichita where he will be laid to rest. On Thursday, Eyewitness News followed believers as they made the first trek of the 60-mile annual pilgrimage to Kapaun’s hometown of Pilsen in Marion County.

The “pilgrims” said walking 60 miles to Fr. Kapaun’s hometown is not about the miles they walk, it’s about remembering what Fr. Kapaun did.

“They made him walk 20 miles a day for three weeks, and I thought, ‘surely I can do something,’” said Fr. Eric Weldon who started the pilgrimage to PIlsen 13 years ago. “Surely I can do something to kind of enter to kind of enter that and commune with him, kind of walk with him and journey in a pilgrimage of prayer.

For decades, Kapaun’s remains were unknown. Having them positively identified was something his family didn’t expect to happen.

“I never anticipated this ever happening in my lifetime,” said Fr. Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun. “And I don’t think anyone else did either. I always told people if the people would have called me up and said, ‘we just declared him a saint,’ I would have been less surprised than I was.:

Those walking from Wichita to Pilsen stop for daily mass and confession and to remember Fr. Kapaun’s life. Each “pilgrim” said they participate in the 60-mile walk to doscover the true meaning of their own journeys.

A pilgrimage through the prairie, all to honor Father Emil Kapaun.

Members of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita will begin their annual pilgrimage Thursday to Pilsen – Father Kapaun’s hometown in Marion County.

Thursday, worshippers will start the pilgrimage with Mass at 6 a.m. at the Church of the Magdalen.

The 60-mile trek leads worshippers on foot from east Wichita to Pilsen over four days. Worshippers will honor Father Kapaun while reflecting on their own faith.

The 60-mile trek leads worshippers on foot from east Wichita to Pilsen over four days.
The 60-mile trek leads worshippers on foot from east Wichita to Pilsen over four days.(KWCH 12)

On the first day, the group will cover about 22 miles. In the following three days, they’ll cover 13 miles, 16 miles, and eight miles.

According to the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, the walk includes daily Mass and time for confessions.

Every two to three miles of the walk the group pauses for Father Kapaun Stations.

Parts of the walk are dedicated to group rosaries and silence, while the rest is time for discussion and meeting new people.

Volunteers will be transporting luggage of pilgrims and camping gear to each location, and meals will be provided.

The group will finish the pilgrimage with Mass at Father Kapaun’s home parish, and a bus will be available to transport people back to Wichita.

Father Kapaun was an army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. He was a prisoner of war in Korea in 1951.

During that time, he continued to minister to other soldiers until his death in May of that year. His remains were identified in March of 2021.

The pilgrimage is not only to remember the Catholic priest and Army chaplain who is on the path to sainthood but to discover the true meaning of their own unique paths to sainthood.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita has announced Father Kapaun’s remains will be flown from Honolulu, Hawaii to Wichita on Saturday, September 25.

A procession will depart from Eisenhower Airport to his hometown of Pilsen.

He will remain there until Monday, September 27.

From there, the priest’s remains will be transported back to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita where they will be kept until the vigil and funeral mass.

The remains of Father Kapaun will be laid to rest in a crypt inside the cathedral as he progresses toward sainthood.

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