About 200 people packed St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen Monday to celebrate all veterans, especially Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun.
People traveled from all over the state to pay homage to military men by participating in a Mass, a military wreath laying in front of the statue of Father Kapaun, and a baked ham dinner. Those who traveled included the young and old, and those who knew Kapaun personally, or had been touched by him.
One guest, Chase Kear of Colwich, had a special reason for traveling to Pilsen to honor Kapaun. According to Kear, praying to Kapaun after a traumatic brain injury sustained while pole vaulting saved his life.
Kear’s case is currently under investigation by the Vatican as a possible miracle preformed by Kapaun; to become a saint, two miracles must be proved. Last month, the Vatican sent a lawyer, Andrea Ambrosi, to investigate Kear’s recovery.
“It was unbelievable,” Kear said. “It was something you never expect, especially being a small town kid.”
Kear said Ambrosi was great to work with, and even though he spoke little English, made him feel at ease.
After the accident in October of 2008, Kear’s home parish of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Colwich began praying to Father Kapaun on Kear’s behalf. Kear said his brother took the prayer to Facebook, where it gained popularity with people all across the country.
“Father Kapaun’s brother, Eugene, lived outside of Colwich,” Kear said. “So it was common for the parish to pray to him for people.”
The doctors removed 25 percent of Kear’s right front lobe of his brain, Kear said.
“The doctors said I would not recover. They weren’t sure I would live, but in a few weeks I was almost back to normal,” Kear said.
Kear believes it was not just the doctors’ skills, but also the prayers to Father Kapaun that led to his recovery.
Kapaun’s nephews, David and Raymond, called Kear’s ordeal proof that their uncle continues to do good for others.
They and their mother, Helen Kapaun, have attended the Pilsen pilgrimages every year since their founding in 2001.
“It brings to light everything he fought for and stood for,” Raymond Kapaun said, “so what he did isn’t forgotten and people can learn and bring attention to what he did.
Father May and four other priests from across the state aided the Vicar General of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, Monsignor John Foster, in Catholic Mass. Knights of Columbus and the McConnell Air Force Base Catholic Choir also assisted with the Mass.
Before the Mass, guests were lead by the choir in the official songs of the four fighting branches, and “America the Beautiful.”
Mike Githens of Wichita said as a veteran of the Navy during the Vietnam War, he thought the ceremony was a perfect example of military respect, and remembrance of Father Kapaun.
He and his wife have traveled to Pilsen for the Veterans Day ceremony for five years.
“The ceremony is an affirmation that people still support the country and veteran’s sacrifice,” he said.
Githens said Kapaun’s example is one of faith that deserves recognition.
“I’ve gone to other shrines of American saints, but there’s something about his faith and sacrifice that makes me feel proud, not just as a veteran, but as an American,” he said.
During lunch, guests could place closed bids for items to be auctioned off Nov. 17 as part of a spaghetti lunch fundraiser for the Kapaun Legacy Fund at the Pilsen Community Center.