Wichita bishop brings formal report on war-hero priest to Vatican

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A week after the 65th anniversary of Fr. Emil J. Kapaun’s capture in North Korea, the bishop of Wichita, Kansas, formally presented a report on the Army chaplain’s life, virtues and fame of holiness to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

Bishop Carl A. Kemme of Wichita and a small delegation from the diocese met Nov. 9 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the congregation, and other officials to hand over the 1,066 report known as a “positio.”

During the Korean War, Fr. Kapaun, a priest of the Wichita diocese, and other members of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, were captured by Chinese troops in North Korea Nov. 2, 1950. The priest died in a North Korean prison camp May 23, 1951.

President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to the war-hero priest in a White House ceremony in 2013, but the men who were imprisoned with Fr. Kapaun and the faithful of the Diocese of Wichita had been honoring him long before that.

“Since the day his fellow prisoners of war in the Korean Conflict (1950-1953) were liberated after their long and cruel incarceration, during which Father Kapaun was instrumental in providing to his fellow soldiers unparalleled pastoral care, word of his saintly virtue has been spreading and continues to our day,” said a letter Bishop Kemme wrote and delivered to Cardinal Amato.

U.S. Army chaplain Fr. Emil Joseph Kapaun, who died May 23, 1951, in a North Korean prisoner of war camp, is pictured in an undated photo. The Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award for bravery, was awarded to the priest posthumously at the White House in 2013. (CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic Advance)
U.S. Army chaplain Fr. Emil Joseph Kapaun, who died May 23, 1951, in a North Korean prisoner of war camp, is pictured in an undated photo. The Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for bravery, was awarded to the priest posthumously at the White House in 2013. (CNS photo/courtesy The Catholic Advance)

“I’m very honored and humbled to be part of this moment,” Bishop Kemme said after handing over the “positio,” which is based on a long diocesan investigation of Father Kapaun’s life, writings and eyewitness testimony, including with prisoners who survived the camp.

Andrea Ambrosi, the postulator or promoter of the cause, said it took 12-13 months to write the volume, which should go to a team of Vatican historians for review in April.

Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, secretary of the congregation, told Bishop Kemme and his delegation that if the historians have no questions and believe the biography and the information about the circumstances of Fr. Kapaun’s death are complete, the report would go to a commission of theologians.

Under normal circumstances, Archbishop Bartolucci said, the theologians would not get to the report for at least 10 years, but since Father Kapaun is the first sainthood candidate from the Wichita diocese, it gets precedence. He is hoping to get the report on the commission’s calendar for late 2017.

“While you are waiting — a year or two — you can work on the miracle,” the archbishop told the bishop.

In fact, Bishop Kemme told him, the diocese already has identified and is working on the documentation for two healings. One of them could be the miracle needed for Fr. Kapaun’s beatification.

While Bishop Kemme was at the Vatican, supporters of Fr. Kapaun’s cause were praying. A special novena for the beatification of Fr. Kapaun began Nov. 2, the 65th anniversary of his capture at the Battle of Unsan, and was to end on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service.

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