Fr. David Lies reflects on Fr. Kapaun at vigil

Fr. David Lies delivered the homily at the vigil for Fr. Kapaun Sept. 28 at Hartman Arena in Park City. (Advance photo)


After recognizing members of the Kapaun family attending a vigil for Fr. Kapaun Tuesday, Sept. 28, in Hartman Arena, Fr. David Lies shared memories of interactions with the family.

He then acknowledged the bishops attending the Most Rev. Paul Coakley, of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; the Most Rev. James Conley, bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska; the Most Rev. Shawn McKnight, bishop of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri – all former priests of the Diocese of Wichita. Also attending was the Most Rev. Richard Spencer, auxiliary bishop of the Military Archdiocese.

Several bishops including four who were at one time priests of the Diocese of Wichita attended the service. (Advance photo)

After recognizing many of the residents of Pilsen, others attending, and the audience viewing electronically, Fr. Lies, announced he was going to tackle one of the biggest questions surrounding the events of the week: How to pronounce Father’s last name.

A mystery in a name

“There are mysteries we may never be able to solve,” he said to the laughter of thousands.

The vicar general of the Diocese of Wichita said that despite differences in pronunciation, “it’s the same man we’re speaking about.”

Fr. Lies recalled the day Bishop Carl A. Kemme was called out of a meeting in the Chancery last March. “When Bishop came back from his office, there was a slight flush to his face. ‘You can’t tell anybody this yet.’ he said. ‘They found Fr. Kapaun.’”

A pulse went through the room, Fr. Lies said.

“As Ray has said many times in interviews, he would have been less surprised had he been told he (Fr. Kapaun) was canonized a saint than that they had discovered his mortal remains.”

That was a moment of light in a time of pandemic darkness, Fr. Lies said.

After explaining that if Fr. Kapaun were alive today he would be 105 years old, Fr. Lies reflected on how as a young priest he would have gotten to know Fr. Kapaun.

“I would have known him as a venerable priest of the diocese. I would have been able to visit with him, to learn from him as we do with our older brothers in the clergy,” he said.

Fr. Lies shares anecdotes

Fr. Lies shared anecdotes about the chaplain-hero and talked about the familiar photos most had seen of Fr. Kapaun’s life.

“Why would I mention this habit (pipe smoking) at Fr. Kapaun’s funeral vigil? It seems relatively mundane and maybe even silly when we know his many heroic acts as a priest and chaplain,” he said. “Because it reveals the quality about Father that was noticed, and mentioned repeated by so many who knew him.”

Fr. Kapaun was a normal man, he said, whose intelligence was reflected by how easily he related to soldiers from all walks of life.

In one battle, after evading enemy machine-gun fire, one soldier commented about how calm Fr. Kapaun was, and when he approached him Fr. Kapaun said, ‘I broke my pipe! A sniper opened up on me as I crawled to reach a man and I broke my pipe!”

Fr. Lies said the point he was trying to get across is one that has been made by several recent popes and by church tradition: “Holiness is obtainable by everyone. Every normal person is called to holiness. To be a saint. You and me.”

God’s grace worked in Fr. Kapaun’s life

God’s grace can make what is natural supernatural, Fr. Lies said, adding that the soldiers Fr. Kapaun lived with and cared for saw this happen.

Fr. Kapaun with a raised awareness of his sacred duties continued to relate to normal people, he said. “Living that normal life and accepting the grace to be a priest of God. He was preparing himself for his greatest gift.” The one he would make in a Korean War POW camp.

After relating aspects about Fr. Kapaun’s life to the Mass readings, Fr. Lies said it was significant that the only recorded words of Fr. Kapaun are of a broadcast made on April 22, 1951, during which he preached about the beatitudes. The chaplain also talked about early Christian persecution and how it continued to his day.

Fr. Kapaun says in the broadcast that we can surely expect that there will come a time when we must make a choice about being loyal to the true faith or giving allegiance to something that is either opposed to or not in alliance with that faith.

Father Kapaun would live those beatitudes and remain loyal to the faith in a prisoner of war camp, Fr. Lies said.

He courageously and calmly resisted the Communist propaganda and brainwashing techniques of his captors, Fr. Lies said. “He struck fear in the hearts of his atheistic tormentors, who could not best his arguments for his logic against their false atheistic beliefs.”

The vicar general wondered if he is as able to be as peaceful and cheerful in times of stress or anxiety.

He concluded by reiterating Fr. Kapaun’s words about how we should respond when forced to choose between truth and evil.