The Rev. Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass, using the hood of his jeep as an altar, as his assistant, Patrick J. Schuler, kneels in prayer in Korea on Oct. 7, 1950, less than a month before Kapaun was taken prisoner. The priest died in a prisoner of war camp on May 23, 1951, his body wracked by pneumonia and dysentery. On April 11, 2013, President Barack Obama awarded the legendary chaplain, credited with saving hundreds of soldiers during the Korean War, the Medal of Honor posthumously. (Photo by U.S. Army Col. Raymond A. Skeehan/courtesy of the Father Kapaun Guild)

Warfare and troopers have modified over a century. Chaplains stay a robust drive.

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(RNS) — Final month, Maj. Gen. Thomas Solhjem, U.S. Military chief of chaplains, launched the Non secular Readiness Initiative, a three-day program — or retreat — to attach spirituality throughout many religions, and no religion. 

“No matter whether or not they have a spiritual perception or not, as leaders now we have duties to look after them even when we’re non secular or not as a result of that’s your Soldier,” Solhjem mentioned. “A part of figuring out them is figuring out how they determine, how they see themselves and to respect that.”

At its coronary heart, the initiative is an acknowledgment {that a} highly effective Military can be a religious one. The identical message is discovered within the mission assertion of the Military Chaplain Corps: “To construct Military religious readiness to deploy, combat, and win our Nation’s wars, by offering dependable and related world-class non secular assist.”

In writing the life story of Emil Kapaun in my ebook “The Saint Makers: Contained in the Catholic Church and How a Warfare Hero Impressed a Journey of Religion,” I found a person very a lot in tune with that mission. Kapaun was a conflict hero — and to many eyes, a saint: His trigger for canonization within the Catholic Church is earlier than the Vatican now. He’s actually among the many most well-known troopers who served within the Korean Warfare.


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Firstly, nonetheless, Kapaun was a navy chaplain, a calling that he first heeded ministering to younger farm boys not in contrast to himself at an Military base close to his house in Kansas.

A Fort Riley honor guard carries the stays of the Rev. Emil Kapaun throughout a funeral Mass on Sept. 29, 2021, in Wichita, Kansas. Kapaun died in a North Korean POW camp in Might 1951. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 for his bravery within the Korean Warfare. Kapaun’s stays had been recognized earlier this 12 months and returned house to Kansas just lately. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle through AP)

Seventy years after his demise in a prisoner of conflict camp in North Korea, his stays had been returned house in September 2021 and are actually interred on the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kansas.

A lot has been written about Kapaun’s battlefield derring-do over the a long time — how he dodged bullets and artillery mortars to pull the wounded to security. How he ducked into foxholes for a fast prayer along with his males, regardless of in the event that they had been Jewish, Muslim or nonbelievers.

How his braveness and kindness, defiance and love, saved lots of (if not hundreds) of his fellow prisoners alive at Camp No. 5, one of the crucial brutal prisons within the historical past of recent conflict. Kapaun died there so they might finally stroll out.

President Barack Obama holds Chaplain (Captain) Emil Kapaun's Easter stole in the Oval Office during a greet with Kapaun's family in the Oval Office, April 11, 2013. The President and First Lady Michelle Obama met with members of Chaplain Kapaun's family before awarding him the Medal of Honor posthumously during a ceremony in the East Room. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama holds chaplain (Captain) Emil Kapaun’s Easter stole throughout a gathering with Kapaun’s household within the Oval Workplace, April 11, 2013. The president and first girl Michelle Obama met with members of Kapaun’s household earlier than awarding him the Medal of Honor posthumously throughout a ceremony within the East Room. Official White Home Photograph by Pete Souza

It earned him the devotion of his fellow troopers, who pushed for many years for him to be acknowledged with the Medal of Honor. It was lastly awarded to him, together with a transferring eulogy, by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Of the greater than 3,518 Medal of Honor recipients, Kapaun is one in all 9 chaplains who, from the Civil Warfare by the Vietnam Warfare, have been acknowledged with America’s biggest honor.

Kapaun was combating for his males’s souls on and off the battlefield.

The Rev. Emil Kapaun during the Korean War. Photo courtesy Raymond Skeehan/ Diocese of Wichita

The Rev. Emil Kapaun through the Korean Warfare. Photograph courtesy of Raymond Skeehan/ Diocese of Wichita

At Camp No. 5, he noticed the misplaced appears to be like and horrible darkness within the faces of his fellow GIs. He reassured them that collectively they had been going to make their means by their tribulation.

Once they had been hungry, weak and sick, he conjured consolation from skinny air, providing imaginary espresso to drink and ribeye steaks to style. He scavenged actual meals for them as properly and engineered instruments out of scrap. He shook them awake from their egocentric methods once they wished to hoard meals or be merciless to at least one one other.

He employed prayer, kindness and like to make the hellhole that was Camp No. 5 survivable for his males. His instance confirmed them energy that they might obtain by turning to God.

“On the cessation of the Korean Warfare when the liberating forces freed the prisoners of this camp, they observed one thing completely different of their angle, distinguishing them from different liberated POWs,” wrote Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas Metropolis in Kansas earlier this month within the diocesan newspaper, The Leaven.

“The POWs from Father Kapaun’s camp had a hope, a camaraderie and concern for one another.”

Wars are fought otherwise as we speak — from the air or sea, with far fewer boots on the bottom. For the second, conflicts are few. Those that serve, demographics will let you know, are much less adherent to specific religions.

The Rev. Emil Kapaun in his trademark garrison hat that he wore on his rounds in Camp No. 5, a brutal prison in the waterfront town of Pyoktong, North Korea. He died there at the age of thirty-five. Photo courtesy of the Father Kapaun Guild

The Rev. Emil Kapaun in his trademark garrison hat that he wore on his rounds in Camp No. 5, a brutal jail in Pyoktong, North Korea. Photograph courtesy of the Father Kapaun Guild

Nonetheless, troopers and their households want ministering to for something from fight accidents to post-traumatic stress dysfunction to the on a regular basis stress of being a human in addition to a soldier or navy member of the family. Navy chaplains are a robust drive of their very own.

Col. Stanton Trotter, the command chaplain for the twenty first Theater Sustainment Command, added: “Even probably the most staunch atheist can consider that we’re nonetheless linked and now we have an ethical obligation to deal with our neighbors. Spirituality isn’t just organized faith.”

Kapaun acknowledged the interconnectedness of his troopers and tended to it no matter their faiths. He did it properly sufficient that when the prisoners of Camp No. 5 had been launched the Muslims and Methodists, Baptists and atheists adopted behind a crucifix bearing Kapaun’s likeness made by a Jewish fighter pilot.

Of all of the heroics and creativity attributed to Kapaun, he understood connections are sometimes made within the small gesture and additional effort.


RELATED: As Individuals change into much less non secular, the function of chaplains might develop


Earlier than he was captured, a fellow officer discovered the priest sitting on an ammunition field and hunched over a desk made out of an ammo crate. He had a pen, paper and a stack of playing cards — greater than 500 of them, every with a reputation of a person killed in fight. 

Kapaun was writing private notes to the troopers’ family members, reassuring them their sons and husbands had died below the loving gaze of Christ. When the officer supplied to assist, Kapaun waved him off.

“Thanks,” he mentioned, “however this can be a chaplain’s job.”

(Joe Drape is a sports activities author for The New York Instances. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)

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