Pilgrimage to Pilsen: Hundreds walk in the rain and heat in memory of Fr. Kapaun

The pilgrims endured rain, wind, and sun in their trek to Pilsen. (Courtesy photo)

Those taking part in this year’s Kansas Camino, a 60-mile pilgrimage by foot from Wichita to Fr. Emil Kapaun’s hometown of Pilsen, have a sense of the hardship the Army chaplain and his fellow prisoners-of-war experienced.

The pilgrims began walking on May 30 from the Church of the Resurrection and ended their physical and spiritual journey on June 2 at St. John Nepomucene Church, Fr. Kapaun’s childhood church.

The organizers provided the millet, and the Lord provided the weather.

Walking in the rain

J. P. Brunke said the more than 300 pilgrims joked among themselves about how quickly Kansas weather can change. “It rained on us for five hours, then we had a breeze going, and then it got really hot,” he said. “I joked that we were going to experience four seasons and that it was going to snow that night.”

This year pilgrims were given an opportunity to eat millet, a grain that Fr. Kapaun and the other prisoners-of-war were fed, Brunke said. “They really embraced that. They really enjoyed that.”

Another blessing this year was Eucharistic Adoration at the stop in Peabody, he said.

Brunke, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clonmel, said he is amazed every year by how many people from “far and wide” take part in the pilgrimage. “They come from different walks of life for many different reasons.”

Learning about Fr. Kapaun

Many have an intention they are walking for, he said, others want to get a better idea of who Fr. Kapaun is. “There’s quite a bit of information that we give through the Kapaun Stations,” he said. “We’re able to meet these people and hear their stories. It’s always encouraging and uplifting for me and my family to learn about the impact Fr. Kapaun has on all of these people around the country.”

Brunke said he has nearly 25 volunteers who help him with the four-day event.

Fr. David Voss, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who is serving as a U.S. Army chaplain at Fort Riley, Kansas, took part in this year’s pilgrimage with some fellow soldiers.

“There was great energy, great joy, and good spirituality this year,” he said. “I thought people were walking with a purpose. They had good intentions to bring, asking for the intercession of Fr. Kapaun as they were walking. It was great to see so many people, not just from our local area, but from around the whole country.”

A special grace for Fr. Voss

He said serving as a U.S. Army chaplain and walking for Chaplain Kapaun was a special grace for him. “It was beautiful to be able to do the work that he did as a chaplain while taking part in the walk.”

One of his fellow soldiers walked the 60-miles with a 35-pound rucksack on his back – with one caveat.

“He made one rule for himself. If anyone offered to carry his pack, he’d let them. Some of the high school girls told him, ‘I want to try carrying it.’ So they put it on like a soldier and it was pretty cute to watch.”
Fr. Voss added that the soldier was asking for the intercession of Fr. Kapaun, to continue to serve in the U.S. Army.

The chaplain thanked those who organized the annual pilgrimage. He wanted to especially thank Chuck and Ellie Kissling who organized the pilgrimage snack truck for many years. They are handing that duty to Teresa Jirak and her family. He also thanked everyone else involved who helped make the event “such a great joy.”