All carry crosses during Fr. Kapaun pilgrimage

Those taking part in this year’s Fr. Kapaun pilgrimage carried a cross of wood and a cross of bad weather. (Courtesy photo)

Those taking part in this year’s Father Kapaun Pilgrimage were able to relate to the miserable conditions he and his fellow captured soldiers endured in their trek to a North Korean prisoner of war camp.

“I think it was the the biggest year as far as participants,” Scott Carter said last week after his recovery. “It was the longest year as far as miles and it was probably the wettest year, too. It was challenging, but great.”

Muddy walk to Pilsen

About 275 pilgrims began a 67-mile – sometimes muddy – walk Thursday, June 2, from the Church of the Resurrection. Their prayers were answered when they arrived, Sunday, June 5, to St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen, Fr. Kapaun’s home church.

Carter, coordinator of Office for the Beatification of Father Emil Kapaun, estimates that about 350 people of all ages took part during the weekend with about 250 walking the entire route. In addition to Kansas, participants came from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Wyoming, California, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii.

Camaraderie brings joy

Despite the challenges of vexatious weather and blistered feet, Carter said pilgrims are drawn by the joy that results from the camaraderie of walking and talking for hours on end. “You feel like you’re a part of something bigger. And there’s the draw of Fr. Kapaun. There’s an interest in wanting to learn more about him.”

Walking for hours together leads to friendships, he said. “You’re walking next to people and the conversation goes to deeper things. People share why they’re there. It’s an intimate exchange. You have enough time to slow down and get to know people which is a beautiful thing.”

Many pilgrims are walking with a special intention in mind, Carter said, adding that one family walked in memory of a 20-year-old son who died from leukemia.

The trek was challenging

“It’s definitely a challenge. There were a lot of blisters and storms hit us on Saturday night and some of the tents were wet. Some spent the night under a porch – I was one of them!”

The pilgrims walked through about a mile and a half of mud on one leg of their trek. But the difficult conditions led to expressions of love, he said.

“They’re walking through mud and they’re helping each other. There were families there and some helped carry strollers that couldn’t be pushed through the mud,” Carter said. “It makes you grateful that we weren’t dodging bullets or having to dive into ditches, but it give you an idea of what prisoners of war went through.”