Thousands gather to honor Fr. Kapaun as remains transported to final resting place

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 10:41 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Wednesday afternoon/evening Update: Following a funeral mass Wednesday morning at Hartman Arena in Park City, Father Emil Kapaun was transported to his final resting place. Fr. Kapaun’s remains are at rest after a week of services. Wednesday afternoon, a procession led him to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Wichita.

People began lining up to view the procession even before the mass concluded. A horse-drawn caisson transported Fr. Kapaun’s remains from Veterans Memorial Park to the cathedral.

Roads were closed along Central from Main Street to Broadway while people paid their final respects to the Kansas native who is on the path to sainthood. Those along the procession who spoke with Eyewitness News said the procession lined with thousands celebrating Fr. Kapaun’s life is what he deserves. Among the crowd were hundreds of students, taking a field trip to see the historic event.

“Just so thankful for the Catholic faith that they are here to support him. And he’s done so much for us today, so this is the least we could do,” student Gage Patterson said.

Outside Hartman Arena, flags were lined up to honor answered prayers decades in the making after Fr. Kapaun died in May 1951 as a prison of war camp in North Korea.

“Most of the people who know me know I always talk about the POWs. I can’t thank those guys enough. These guys came out of this death camp, and came out and told Fr. Kapaun’s story, told it to anyone who would listen, told it to anyone who wouldn’t listen, told it to anybody,” Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun said. “I truly believe we probably wouldn’t be having this amazing event if it wasn’t for these guys.”

Wednesday’s funeral mass for Fr. the Army chaplain and Medal of Honor recipient was a moment some Catholics and fellow soldiers feared would never come. Thousands gathered in the arena just north of Wichita to hear the inspiring testimony one more time.

“You feel sad. You end up in tears when you think about what he went through, but at the end, it’s a celebration, it’s joy because he’s home,” said Carla Bouska Lee, among the thousands from across the Wichita area and beyond who attended the funeral mass.

Roads closed for Kapaun procession
Roads closed for Kapaun procession(KWCH)

Wednesday Morning Update: The funeral mass for Fr. Emil Kapaun will be held Wednesday morning at Hartman Arena in Park City. It is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. The service is open to the public but registration was needed and the tickets have already sold out.

Father Kapaun’s remains will be transported from Veterans Memorial Park (339 Veterans Memorial Pkwy) in Wichita, by way of a horse-drawn caisson to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where he will be laid to rest. Taps and a 21 gun salute will be given as his remains are taken inside the Cathedral.

For those unable to attend the service and wish to view the procession for Fr. Kapaun, the route will begin at Central just east of Veterans Memorial Park and proceed east to Main Street. The final stretch from Main to Broadway will be reserved for students from the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.

Tuesday Update: Thousands gather at Park City’s Hartman Arena for the funeral vigil for Fr. Emil Kapaun, the first opportunity for believers in the Wichita area to honor the Medal of Honor recipient who is on a path to possible sainthood.

Fr. Kapaun died as a prisoner of war in Korea 70 years ago. His remains returned to Kansas this weekend.

As a POW, Fr. Kapaun risked his life ministering to soldiers. Tuesday night, worshippers and priests recognized the sacrifices he made for his faith. Tuesday night’s funeral vigil had been in the works for about seven months since Fr. Kapaun’s remains were identified in March. Hartman Arena was near capacity with people coming to pay respects before Fr. Kapaun’s burial on Wednesday.

You can re-watch Tuesday night’s funeral vigil in the window below.

Fr. Kapaun’s story is one Kansas Catholics have followed for a long time.

“We have been waiting for this for a long time. It’s exciting that Fr Kapaun is back home,” said Cat Wilson, among believers who attended the funeral vigil.

Bill Nestelroad drives a 1944 Jeep during the annual pilgrimage to Kapaun’s hometown of Pilsen. It’s just like a vehicle the military used while Kapaun served. Nestelroad said being part of these events is an honor.

“To be asked by the Catholic community to be part of this again, it just, it gives me goosebumps to be able to do that and show the living history of our military.”

Fr. Kapaun is currently on the lengthy path to becoming a saint. The canonization process began in 2008.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita continues its preparation for the first public tribute to Father Emil Kapaun in the Wichita area. The funeral vigil and rosary mass planned for Tuesday night, Sept. 28 at Hartman Arena in Park City follows the festivities in Fr. Kapaun’s hometown of Pilsen over the weekend. Over the next few days, thousands are expected to gather in the arena just north of Wichita. Hartman Arena will also serve as the site for Fr. Kapaun’s funeral Wednesday.

“We are really offering him what we would offer anyone in the Catholic Church after their death said Fr. David Lies with the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.

Fr. Lies has been a part of the diocese for decades, but the past seven months have been special in their own right. Fr. Lies has been working directly with several groups to bring Fr. Kapaun to his final resting place in Wichita. The tomb is being placed inside The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception will serve as a place where people can pray while in the presence of Fr. Kapaun’s remains. Fr. Lies added that the location and the opportunity are equally important.

“There is something about the physical tangibility that we all appreciate as human beings that we can see or hear and place our hands on something that holds meaning to us,” he said.

But before Fr. Kapaun is placed in downtown Wichita, about 6,000 people are expected to pay their respects, each with their own personal connection to the Medal of Honor recipient who died as a prisoner of war more than 70 years ago and is now on a path to possible sainthood.

“The day that he died, May 23 is the day that I was ordained a priest,” Fr. Lies said. “So to be able to share that date with him has meant a lot to me as a priest.”

Fr. Lies said the occasion with honoring Fr. Kapaun in Wichita is more than just a tribute, but a symbol of hope from a man cherished by many.

“The Lord never forgets us and when we most need it, he raises up a story of an example of a person’s life that helps each of us through the struggles we may face in life,” Fr. Lies said.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita said it’s given away a majority of the tickets to each of the public events for Fr. Kapaun, but it will have a livestream available on the YouTube channel for the diocese.

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