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Fr. Kapaun returning to Kansas as Vatican considers sainthood

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 9:48 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The remains of Fr. Emil Kapaun will soon be on their way to Kansas. Tuesday morning in a ceremony at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the priest’s remains were handed over to his family and members of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. A mortuary is preparing them for their return to Kansas on Saturday, Sept. 25.

Before Kapaun’s departure to his final resting place near home, the schedule included a send-off mass Thursday evening in Hawaii.

Fr. Kapaun’s remains were discovered In March, nearly 70 years after his death. Being one of 100 Korean War soldiers from Kansas who were unaccounted for, Fr. Kapaun’s family thought this would never happen until Ray Kapaun got a phone call in March that his uncle’s remains had been found.

“This really is a miracle for the remains to be found because no one ever thought that. I never thought that, and for his remains to be almost completely intact, it really is a miracle,” Ray Kapaun said.

That started Fr. Kapaun’s journey home. Ray was able to touch the bones of the uncle he’s never met.

“My wife and I had the opportunity because his remains were laying on an Army blanket,” Ray Kapaun said. “My wife and I got the opportunity to put the Army blanket back over his remains and pin his remains in place.”

Now, Fr. Kapaun’s hometown of Pilsen, Kansas is awaiting his arrival. Pilsen is a place where Fr. Kapaun’s spirit has never left. His church and a museum in the small town in Marion County honor him.

When Kapaun returns to Kansas, a procession will leave from Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita to his PIlsen. A vigil and funeral mass will be held for Fr. Kapaun next Tuesday, Sept. 28, at Hartman Arena.

Now that the remains of Fr. Emil Kapaun have been identified, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita is more hopeful than ever that the Kansas priest and Medal of Honor recipient will one day be declared a saint. Fr. Kapaun served as an Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. He was a prisoner of war in Korea in 1951. During that time, he continued to minister to other soldiers until his death in May of that year. In 1993, Fr. Kapaun was declared a Servant of God, the first step toward sainthood.

“In our Catholic tradition, the body of who we think may be saints is very important to us. The human person is a union of body and soul, so the body is a temple of the soul,” Bishop Carl Kemme with the Wichita Catholic Diocese. explained after Kapaun’s remains were identified. “So they’re sacred, the body is sacred. To have that material, concrete remains is really an important development I think.”

As Fr. Kapaun could be on his way to sainthood, his family says this step of returning home for his final resting place feels right.

“Father has carried me through y life and now through a lot of things,” Ray Kapaun said. “And now I got to carry hi on his first step on his journey home. It was, I don’t know. I can’t put it into words.”

You can find more information on Fr. Kapaun’s story and what the Wichita Diocese calls his “Cause for Canonization,” on its website.

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