A gift for the people of Pilsen



The handcrafted crucifix that John Moore delivered to the people of Pilsen Friday will go a long way to fill a void at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church that has existed more than a half-century after the loss of a different handcrafted crucifix.

Not long after Father Kapaun?s death in 1953 in a Korean prisoner of war camp, grateful veterans who encountered his inspirational ministry in the camp presented the church with the crucifix handcrafted by one of the soliders imprisoned there.

According to the book, ?Faces of Holiness: Modern Saints? by Ann Ball, Major Gerald Fink, a Jewish Marine fighter pilot, spent 21?2 months creating the crucifix from the sparse resources available in the camp.

Fink even made his own tools. The knife was made from the steel arch of a discarded boot and the chisel from a drain-pipe bracket.

The 26-inch corpus was carved from scrub oak and the 40-inch cross from cherry wood. The crown of thorns was made from scraps of radio wire that resembled barbed wire.

The soldiers titled the crucifix ?Christ in Barbed Wire.? It was used during religious services until they were repatriated.


?The POWs refused to leave camp until the Koreans let them take it out,? said Rose Mary Neuwirth, who is active with the Father Kapaun Guild in Pilsen. ?They brought it to Father?s hometown of Pilsen and presented it to the Pilsen people.?

Then, during the late 1950s or early 1960s, the bishop from the Diocese of Wichita removed the crucifix from the church in order to display it in the newly completed Kapaun-Mount Carmel High School in Wichita.

?Father?s mother was still alive then,? Neuwirth said. ?Father?s brother told us before he passed away that it used to hang in our church here in Pilsen, and every day after mass his mother would pass in front of it. It was her connection with her son.

?She cried for weeks and weeks and weeks afterward, every time she came to church,? Neuwirth added.

?I told this story to John (Moore) when he was gathering information about Father. That?s the reason he carved this, so it would be in Pilsen. It doesn?t look anything like the original, but he intended it to be something here in Pilsen to kind of take its place.?

Neuwirth struggled to describe her feelings about the new crucifix, and the 630-mile pilgrimage that brought it to Pilsen.

?I really can?t think of words to describe it,? she said. ?I just think it?s the most awesome thing I?ve ever heard. It?s just unbelievable. And to think he walked carrying it.?

And what do her fellow parishioners think?

?They just think it?s the most wonderful thing anybody could do to honor Father Kapaun and spread the word about Father Kapaun. That?s basically what (Moore) is doing.?

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