HONOLULU (CNS) – Hawaii offered aloha to Father Emil J. Kapaun, US Army chaplain during the Korean War and candidate for holiness on September 23.
Bishop of Honolulu Larry Silva celebrated an evening mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in honor of the priest who died 70 years ago in a North Korean POW camp.
The occasion was the transfer of Father Kapaun’s remains from Punchbowl National Cemetery of the Pacific to his home diocese of Wichita, Kansas, where a grave was prepared for him in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Among those who were in Hawaii to accompany the remains to Kansas the next day were Bishop Carl A. Kemme of Wichita; Scott Carter, Father Kapaun Guild coordinator; Father David Lies, vicar general of the diocese; Ray Kapaun, nephew of Father Kapaun; and the priest’s niece, US Air Force Maj. Kristina Roberts.
Father Kapaun is remembered for his selfless and courageous service in the service of soldiers on the front lines of the battle and, after his capture in 1950, for caring for and boosting the morale of his fellow warriors while undergoing captivity. brutal. He died in prison on May 23, 1951.
The US Defense POW / MIA accounting agency announced on March 4 this year that it had identified the priest’s remains among those of unidentified soldiers long buried at the National Cemetery.
In the cathedral, the remains of Father Kapaun were contained in a closed coffin of polished dark wood. Barely noticeable was a metal “dog tag” ID with his name stamped on it attached to the rear handle by a small chain.
A small table contained a folded and framed American flag. On the floor near the table was a simple arrangement of lilies; on the other side, a lighted paschal candle.
Ray Kapaun said the return of his uncle’s remains had left him “extremely emotional” and he found it hard to believe he was witnessing the return home of his long lost relative.
He said the identification of the remains earlier this year was the “biggest surprise”.
“It was not planned,” he told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu’s diocesan newspaper. “I am very proud but very humbled” to be linked to such a holy man.
He said Father Kapaun was considered a saint by many long before his remains were found. He said his reputation grew with every story told about him by fellow POWs who had witnessed his fearless charity.
In welcoming the congregation, Bishop Silva noted that this was the second time the bones of a holy priest had been unearthed from a Hawaiian grave and returned from the cathedral to his homeland. The first was Saint-Damien in 1936.
Everyone in the cathedral, including priests and bishops, was masked because of the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing only allowed about 75 people in the church.
Fourteen priests, including several military chaplains, concelebrated.
The liturgy included hymns in Hawaiian, English and Latin conducted by a single cantor. Members of the Kapaun extended family read the readings and presented the offering gifts.
The homilist was Father Wayne Schmid, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita and chaplain himself for over 20 years, who said he owed his vocation to Father Kapaun.
He said he was inspired by Father Kapaun since he read a book about him in high school.
“Father Kapaun is a saint for our time,” he said. “It is a model to be emulated by priests, by chaplains.”
“He had an influence on my life, the way he lived his life totally and completely” for Christ, said Father Schmid. “No task was too weak for him.”
“He was the presence of Christ wherever he was called to serve,” he said. “Father Kapaun ministered as Christ did. He treated everyone equally and all the same. What better example for the world today.
In remarks after Communion, Bishop Kemme thanked Bishop Silva for having organized Mass to “send us back to Kansas with the grace of the sacrament”.
He called it a “capital and historic occasion for our diocese”.
“How blessed I am to be here,” he said. “Six bishops (before him) had desired this day. We prayed for it and it happened, the answer to our prayers. “
He said thousands of people were waiting for the holy hero from Wichita to return home. Father Kapaun is “really a hero now all over the world,” he said.
Bishop Kemme noted that this was his first trip to Hawaii and joked that he had discovered that Kansas and Hawaii had nothing in common – except that now the two are the “land of the saints ”, a reference to St. Damien de Veuster and St. Marianne Cope in Hawaii. .
Of Father Kapaun, the bishop said he was “confident in his powerful intercession”, which will be necessary for the miracles necessary for his beatification and his canonization. He said the potential saint had already blessed Hawaii with his decades-long anonymous rest at the Pacific National Cemetery.
Ordained a priest for Wichita on June 9, 1940, Father Kapaun served as a chaplain in the United States Army during World War II and the Korean War with the rank of captain.
Father Kapaun’s cause of holiness was officially opened in 1993, giving him the title of “Servant of God”. His case is currently being examined by the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
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Editor’s Note: More information on Father Kapaun’s life, ministry and cause of holiness is available at https://frkapaun.org.
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Downes is editor-in-chief of the Hawaii Catholic Herald, a newspaper for the Diocese of Honolulu.