20 April 2011

Sharing a birthday with a saint and a sinner

Servant of God Fr Emil Joseph Kapaun, 20 April 1916 (Holy Thursday) - 23 May 1951 in Korea.

When I was in secondary school I considered for a while joining the Irish Air Corps. When I discovered that to be a pilot you had to be pretty good at physics and mathematics I dropped that idea but still had thoughts of becoming an army officer. Along with this was a growing conviction that God was calling me to be a missionary priest. I held both priests and soldiers in great esteem.

We have a very good public library service in Dublin and when I was about 16 I came across a biography of a Catholic priest who died in the Korean War as a chaplain in the American Army, Fr Emil J. Kapaun ['CAPEun']. Here was somebody who, to a heroic degree, embodied all my ideals. I was thrilled when I discovered that we shared the same birthday. I've just discovered now that, like myself, he was also a 'Holy Week baby'. I was born on Tuesday of Holy Week the last time Easter fell on its latest possible date, 25 April, 1943. (St Francis Xavier was also born on Tuesday of Holy Week (7 April 1506).

Castillo Javier, Navarra, Spain, where St Francis Xavier was born

A brief biography of Father Kapaun  on the website devoted to his beatification and canonization reads:

Father Kapaun, was born in Pilsen, Kansas in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas on Holy Thursday, April 20, 1916. He was ordained as a Priest for the Diocese on June 9, 1940 and entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944.

Separated from the service in 1946, he re-entered the Army in 1948 and was sent to Japan the following year.

In July of 1950 Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea. On November 2 of that same year he was taken as a prisoner of war. In the seven months in prison, Father Kapaun spent himself in heroic service to his fellow prisoners without regard for race, color or creed.

To this there is testimony of men of all faiths. Ignoring his own ill health, he nursed the sick and wounded until a blood clot in his leg prevented his daily rounds. Moved to a so-called hospital, but denied medical assistance, his death soon followed on May 23, 1951.

The Diocese of Wichita and the Vatican have begun the formal process that could lead to Father Kapaun's canonization. In 1993, it was announced that Fr. Kapaun would receive the title of "Servant of God". 

Father Kapaun celebrating Mass during the Korean War

The same website also has this prayer:
Prayer for Intercession

Father Emil Kapaun gave
glory to God by following
his call to the priesthood and
thus serving the people of Kansas
and those in the military.

Father Kapaun, I ask your
intercession not only for these needs
which I mention now. . .but that I
too may follow your example of
service to God and my neighbor.

For the gifts of courage in battle
and perseverance of faith,
we give you thanks O Lord.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary,
and one Glory Be.

Below is a video of that prayer being led in a church by a priest who received his First Holy Communion from Father Kapaun. At the end is the voice of Father Kapaun giving a blessing:

Here is the trailer of a film about Father Kapaun.

Discovering during my adolescent years such a genuinely saintly hero who shared my birthday somehow cancelled out that fact that I also shared it with one whose contribution to the world wasn't quite as positive:

1 comment:

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Fr Sean..you always have THE most interesting posts!