The Miracle Of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier, And Korean War Hero, by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying
During my undergraduate studies I took a course in British and Irish history to 1200 AD that included the reading of various kinds of hagiographies like those of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigit. I must admit that I thought of such books as being relics of the Middle Ages, but lo and behold, this book is a contemporary example of the literary material that Catholics generate in order to support the process by which people move through being recognized as saints. I was not aware of Father Kapaun before reading this book, but this book is a delightful and somewhat odd picture into a side of Catholic spirituality  that is quite foreign to my own background and my own habits. Coming in at around 150 pages or so, this book is a largely undemanding read and so it offers a convenient access point into a genre of literature that I have largely neglected at any rate. The authors of this book are under the belief that Emil Kapaun is a well-known and famous figure, but if I had never come across him until now, it is probably safe to guess that he remains a fairly obscure figure to those outside of the Catholic community of rural Kansas, where he was born and raised.
In terms of its contents, this book is divided into various chapters with two overarching purposes–determining as best as possible the facts of the lives of military chaptlain Emil Kapaun and determining if he meets the rigorous standards of sanctity established by the Roman Catholic Church. After a foreword from a bishop and a short intorduction, the book looks at the Battle of Unsan in what is now North Korea where Emil Kapaun was captured along with other soldiers during the initial Chinese advance from the Yalu River in late 1950. The authors then spend several chapters looking at the remaining part of the grim life of its subject, the death march, the prisoner of war camp, Kapaun’s conduct in organizing efforts at stealing food and medicine as hundreds die, his role as defender of the faith in a camp run by godless atheists, and his strenuous efforts at showing forgiveness and generosity before his death as were recorded by fellow prisoners of war. Special attention is paid to the survival of Kapaun’s cross, ironically constructed by a Jewish POW, before the book turns to defining a miracle and showing two healings that meet the rigorous standards and have withstood the scrutiny of an official Advocate for the Devil for the Catholic Church, before acknowledgments and a few appendices, sources, and an index close the book.
This book appears to have two motives. The first is to anticipate and justify Emil Kapaun being given the Distinguished Medal of Honor for his selfless generosity in helping GIs escape an impossible situation during the Korean War as well as for his efforts at encouraging morale and helping his fellow prisoners survive the brutality of prison camps. The second aim is to show how his sanctity but also his humanity not only helped in miraculous ways during his life but after his death, which would provide according to the worldview of Catholics evidence of his sanctity. Admittedly, I found myself rather queasy in thinking about the Catholic practice of praying to saints, as apparently is done in the area of Kansas where Kapaun was from. Even for readers like me who have no interest in nor fondness for such aspects of popish spirituality, this book provides a look at a truly great man who I had never heard about before reading the book but who I feel a certain sense of kinship with and respect for. For that fact alone this book and its authors deserve considerable praise.
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