Pilsen gearing for another pilgrimage for Father Kapaun

Pilsen?s favorite son, Father Emil Kapaun, is being considered for sainthood in part because of his selfless care for American POWs during the Korean War.The annual Pilsen Pilgrimage is scheduled from May 30 through June 1 as a way of raising awareness about Father Emil Kapaun, who died in 1951 as a POW in Korea.

Rose Mary Neuwirth, who is responsible for starting Father Kapaun Day, said last year more than 135 walkers made the pilgrimage from Wichita to Pilsen.

?It is so interesting listening to the people after they walked,? she said.

?One gentleman in his 60s talked about how inspirational it was for him.?

Neuwirth said he told her they would walk and then stop and talk about Father Kapaun?s story.

?They would talk about what he went through when he was walking (in Korea),? she said.

While resting, the walkers would tie it all in, Neuwirth said, especially the year it was 100-plus degrees and what it would have been like at 40 degrees below zero.

?We didn?t have soldiers willing to kill us if we didn?t do the walk and we were getting full meals,? the walker told her.

For Father Kapaun, his time in Korea as a POW might have only lasted from November to May, but his impact on the soldiers seemed an internity, according to many accounts.

?Many of the POWs with him were there three years, but the way he gave food away and took care of everyone is what did him in,? Neuwirth said.

?It was also what made the death rate in that camp the lowest in Korea because he taught them how to take care of each other.?

Showing devotion

The pilgrimage, said Father Eric Weldon, coordinating the Wichita walk, consists of three days, two nights and 60 miles of walking.

?Pilgrims walk during the day and camp at night, ending with Mass in Pilsen,? he said.

Neuwirth said the walk is for anyone who would like to share in the experience.

?Father Kapaun didn?t care if someone was Catholic or what as long as they believed in God and helped others,? she said.

The group of walkers begin at the Church of the Magdalen, 12626 E. 21st St., Wichita, and stop Friday night at a farm.

The second night of the journey, people camp out at the Aulne Church.

Arriving at Pilsen

The walkers arrive between noon and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, June 1, Neuwirth said.

?Father Weldon is expecting even more people this year,? she said.

Another exciting aspect of this year?s pilgrimage and Father Kapaun Day is that someone from Texas will be taking part in the walk.

?We have never had anyone coming from that far away,? she said.

?This gentleman has no connection to Father Kapaun other than just learning his story and being moved by it.?

Another walker, also from out-of-state will also be returning.

John Moore of Gallup, N.M., plans to attend Father Kapaun Day and the pilgrimage.

Last year, she said, Moore transported a 5-foot-tall statue made from a Redwood tree, which was made by Mark Chavez, a retired Albuquerque firefighter.

In addition to the wooden statue last year, Raymond Kapaun, nephew of Father Kapaun, presented the community with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

At that time, Raymond said the medal belongs in Pilsen.

?From this point on,? he said, ?the Congressional Medal of Honor is for everyone to see, for everyone to know and for everyone to remember what Father Emil stood for and what his life was all about.?

Until a suitable location can be erected for the medal, it remains in a safety deposit box, Neuwirth said.

However, it will be available June 1 for everyone to see.

?We are still looking at different aspects on what to do with the medal in the future,? she said.

Sunday Mass

Mass will begin at 3 p.m. June 1 at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church and, Neuwirth said, Raymond will be in Pilsen to present an American flag after Mass.

?Raymond plans to present the parish with the flag that was from the Pentagon ceremony when he received the Medal of Honor,? she said.

In less than three weeks, the 12th annual Father Kapaun Day will be recognized and Neuwirth said she is hoping the Pilsen Road will be fixed.

?(The county) promised us a blacktop road last year,? she said, ?hopefully the road will be totally done.?

For information about the annual pilgrimage, call Father Weldon at 316-262-1821.

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