Father Kapaun pilgrimage celebrates 13 years

By Joe Bukuras for CNA

Fr. Kapaun with his pipe/ Fr. Emil Kapaun walking pilgrimage, 2021. / Sharon Norden/Diocese of Wichita

Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Wichita concluded its Father Emil Kapaun pilgrimage on Sunday, after four days of walking, companionship and prayer.

Each year hundreds of pilgrims walk 60 miles to remember the heroic Army chaplain who is on the path to sainthood.

The march, which is all on foot, begins in northeast Wichita at the Church of the Magdalen, and ends at St. John Nepomucene church in Marion, Kansas – Father Kapaun’s home parish. The pilgrimage concludes with the Father Kapaun Day Mass.

“The walk is demanding,” Sharon Norden, a veteran pilgrim for Father Emil Kapaun, told CNA. “Every year 95% of travel is on gravel roads. It is in the heat, with nature and all the elements that come with it.”

The annual pilgrimage is now in its 13th year. The 2021 walk was unique because the Wichita diocese is preparing to welcome the bodily remains of Fr. Kapaun.

The priest had served as a chaplain during the Second World War; he became known for his service in the Korean War with the U.S. Army’s Eighth Cavalry regiment. After he was taken prisoner, Fr. Kapaun served and ministered to other soldiers in a prison camp, where he died on May 23, 1951.

His remains were discovered in Hawaii in March, and will be placed in a crypt at the cathedral in Wichita. His cause for canonization is open.

Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita welcomed the discovery of Fr. Kapaun’s remains in March.

“It was a joyful and exciting surprise for the Diocese of Wichita that Fr. Kapaun’s mortal remains were recovered after so many years and we continue to look forward to his process of canonization in the future,” the bishop stated.

Kapaun’s surviving family is helping to plan the transport of his remains and his final resting place. Kapaun’s body is expected to arrive in Kansas in September, The Wichita Eagle reported.

The walk can be grueling, sometimes forcing pilgrims to excuse themselves and ride in one of the support vehicles which follows the group.

Pilgrims can often suffer from blisters or dehydration from the walk. Now on her eighth time completing the pilgrimage, Norden told CNA she had to excuse herself from one day of marching because of dehydration.

“This is a humbling experience,” she told CNA. “But even Jesus needed help on his way to the cross.” Norden was able to rejoin the pilgrimage and finish the next day.

Pilgrims had access to the sacraments while on the walk, as priests celebrated Mass and heard confessions each day.

Norden told CNA that much of the pilgrimage focuses on prayer and faith conversations with other pilgrims.

“Once you get on the road and start talking to people, hear their stories, listen to how faith changes their lives and how they let God work through life, the advice they give, books suggested, podcasts to listen to, and daily prayers that have helped through difficult challenges in their life, it is fantastic to witness faith in action in so many people in this time of struggle,” she said.

“No one scoffs at saying a rosary on the road or the divine mercy chaplet between conversations,” Norden said. “It is where you feel your faith recharged, just like Father Kapaun recharged the men and they all continued to go on in their imprisonment.”

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