Walk of honor, gift of gratitude

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Not many people receive a standing ovation when they walk into a church service. But then again, not many people walk 630 miles to get there.

John Moore received the enthusiastic welcome from parishioners and guests at St. John Nepomu?cene Catholic Church in Pilsen when he entered the building Friday about 10 minutes before the start of the annual Veterans Day Mass.

For Moore, who owns and operates a recreational vehicle park in Gallup, N.M., it was the end of a spiritual pilgrimage that took 40 days of walking to cover the distance between his hometown and Pilsen.

For the people of the Pilsen area, Friday was the opportunity to thank Moore for his commitment to honor the life and ministry of their hometown hero, Father Emil Kapaun, and to accept a hand-carved wooden crucifix that Moore carried on his back every step of the way to memorialize Kapaun?s selfless ministry as a chaplain in a Korean prisoner of war camp.

?There were four reasons for this trip,? Moore said during a interview Thursday along U.S. Highway 56 west of Lehigh.

?One is to honor Christ,? said the 61-year-old Moore. ?Another is to honor Father Kapaun, the third is to honor the people of Pilsen and the community around Pilsen, and the fourth is to honor the military and the veterans, which (Kapaun) had a special place in his heart for.

?I?m really excited to get there,? he added. ?I?m close and I?m ready to present this (crucifix) to the Father Kapaun Guild. From what I?ve heard, it?s going to mean a lot to them.?

The idea forms

Moore said he?s undertaken numerous pilgrimages during the years, but none as long as this one.

The idea came to him when he was reading an article about Father Kapaun in a magazine produced by the Knights of Columbus, of which he is a member.

Moore found the website for the Father Kapaun Guild and eventually made contact with Pilsen?s Rose Mary Neuwirth, who works with the organization and has been a local advocate for efforts to have the priest and chaplain canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church.

?He called and wanted to know how I felt about it, and it sounded awesome,? Neuwirth said. ?After seeing the crucifix in person, the pictures do not do it justice.?

Designed by Pilsen parishioners, the crucifix was carved with a chainsaw out of alligator juniper wood by Mark Chavez, a friend of Moore who attended the presentation in Pilsen Friday. It was christened the ?Chaplain Kapaun Crucifix.?

Moore intended the gift to fill a void created when a crucifix made by one the prisoners in the POW camp, and later presented to the church, was removed 50 years ago for display in the newly completed Kapaun-Mount Carmel High School in Wichita.

?I wanted to give the people of Pilsen a cross,? Moore said. ?It won?t ever replace that piece that was sent to Wichita, but it is a gift.?

Moore added that as much as it meant to the Pilsen people to have the crucifix in the church as a memorial to Father Kapaun, it was even more significant for Moore to bring it to them on foot.

?Some have said why don?t you just drive it up there, or mail it,? he said. ?The journey?s part of the gift.

?I was a coach for 34 years and I always told my runners, you must deserve to win. Just because you have talent, you?ve got to be part of a team, you?ve got to deserve to put in the effort for that state title.

?That?s how I feel about carrying this. Anybody can buy a cross, but by carrying it I want to be deserving of presenting it to the people in Pilsen. I want it to be deserving of its namesake, which is called the Chaplain Kapaun Crucifix.

?I want it to mean something.?

 

The journey

Moore began his pilgrimage Sept. 11 from Veterans Cemetery in Santa Fe, N.M. Twice he walked for stints of 12 consecutive days before taking a break to tend to his business back in Gallup.

Each time, Moore was driven back to the place where he had stopped, and he continued the route. On this third and last leg, Moore was in Day 15 of a 16-day stint.

?I trained about nine months before I took this walk,? he said. ?I didn?t just get up and say I?m going to start walking?I?m not Forest Gump. I put a lot of thought into it, and really planned the trip.?

Moore said an early highlight of the journey was spending time at the memorial to Vietnam War veterans in the mountains of Angel Fire, N.M. The memorial was initiated by physician Victor Westphall in honor of his son, David, who was killed in the war.

?When people were spitting on our soldiers and calling them names, he built this memorial, manned it and welcomed all our veterans home while the rest of the country was pretty much doing the opposite,? Moore said.

?I wanted to make sure I stopped there in honor of our veterans.?

Moore said he also relished his walk through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico because the name is Spanish for ?Blood of Christ.?

?It took me nine days to get through those mountain,? he added with wry smile.?

Moore crossed the panhandle of Oklahoma before entering Kansas near Liberal. He proceeded to Great Bend, where he followed a path largely along U.S. 56.

Moore experienced another memorable moment?for different reasons?when he opted to walk along country roads outside of Great Bend instead of the highway.

?I like peace and quiet?I don?t like the highway that much,? Moore said. ?When I got to Great Bend, I was finally able to go on these county roads. After two days I got stuck in the mud, and then the two vehicles got stuck in the mud coming to get me.

?Finally, a farmer came out and hauled us both out with a big old tractor. All I?ve got to say is thank God for farmers.?

Moore said he enjoyed the scenic challenges of the New Mexico mountains, but has gained a great appreciation for the Sunflower State.

?Kansas is a beautiful state?I love Kansas,? he said, adding that those who say otherwise aren?t paying attention.

?They don?t see it,? he said. ?If you walk through the panhandle of Oklahoma, Kansas is beautiful.?

Moore said his biggest regret is not being able to make side trips during his walk through Kansas.

?There are so many things I want to see,? he said. ?All I do is focus on the walk. I don?t go out and look at things, like museums?because if I do, that?s just more walking.?

He added, ?There?s a sign that I show to people that says, ?If you don?t reach your goal it?s because you took your eye of it.? I can?t take my eye off the goal.?

Honors at Pilsen

Following the Veterans Day mass at St. John Nepomucene, a ceremony with military honors convened at the Father Kapaun Memorial on the church grounds.

Included among the attenders were the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus as an honor for Bishop Neal James Buckon, who, along with other auxiliary bishops, oversees Catholic priests serving as military chaplains worldwide, and for Father John Hotze, whose office is at the chancery in Wichita. Hotze is the head of the Father Kapaun Guild and chaplain at McConnell Air Force Base.

With the presentation of the crucifix, Moore?s most challenging pilgrimage is officially complete. He said he anticipates more pilgrimages in the future, but none of this magnitude.

?I like taking pilgrimages?but I don?t always carry a cross on my back,? he said.

Why pilgrimages?

?It?s just something I do,? Moore said. ?It?s humbling myself before the Lord.

?Everybody does something,? he added. ?People play golf, people play tennis, they watch TV and drink beer on Sunday and watch a football game. I walk and I carry crosses.?

Then he added, ?I?m the donkey that?s carrying the cross on his back. I?m not as important as what it represents, who it?s for and what I?m doing it for.?

The Chaplain Kapaun Crucifix will remain permanently in the Father Kapaun Museum in Pilsen, and can be viewed by contacting the church office.

Patty Decker contributed to this article.

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