WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Thousands of people filled Hartman Arena in Wichita to honor a Kansas priest who died in 1951 as a prisoner of war during the Korean War.
Services for Father Emil Kapaun were held Wednesday, decades after the priest from Pilsen, Kansas, died while ministering to fellow prisoners of war.
The church is considering Kapaun for sainthood.
It’s was an emotional day for many who attended the service.
“It is just probably the biggest miracle of my life and a lot of the people that are here, and so I am very glad that I and my lifetime was able to witness this,” said Juanita Bartley, Pilsen.
“We wanted the kids to be able to come out, and it is a once in a lifetime experience to have this,” said Bo Newell, who attended the Mass.
Kapaun’s remains were identified in March and returned to his Kansas family last week. His nephew spoke about the emotions he felt this week.
“Uncle Emil welcome home, home at last,” said Ray Kapaun.
A letter from Col. Mike Dowe, a fellow prisoner of war, was read during the Mass. It contained Kapaun’s last words to the man before he died.
“I was in tears when he said to me, ‘Mike, don’t be sad. I’m going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I will be praying for you all,'” said Rev. Matthew Pawlikowski.
“I think that is what is going to stay with me. It was beautiful,” said Ciara Wellbrock, who attended the Mass.
Many people said this is a day they will never forget.
“I think everybody here feels the same way. It was kinda a nice way to tie it all together. It was amazing that his body came back,” said Steve Cless, who attended the Mass.
When the ceremony ended a horse-drawn caisson was used to take Kapaun’s remains to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Thousands lined the streets as the procession made its way to Kapaun’s final resting place.
“It is totally amazing that one person can have this kinda impact on other people, and I think that is his life story,” said Michael Ehling, who was outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The diocese shared that most of Father Kapaun’s remains are here and that he is only missing a few finger bones. The diocese said that in itself is a miracle.