Thursday, December 10, 2009

Father Emil Kapaun: Leads camp prisoners in quiet acts of defiance


The Wichita Eagle

"No sincere prayer is ever wasted." -Father Emil Kapaun

At sunrise on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1951, Father Emil Kapaun startled POWs by donning his purple priest’s stole and openly carrying a Catholic prayer missal, borrowed from Ralph Nardella.

He had talked atheist guards into letting him hold an Easter service, a favor they soon regretted.

No one there would ever forget this day. The most moving sight the POWs ever saw.

At sunrise, 80 officers — bearded, dirty and covered with lice — followed Kapaun up a little rise, to the cold steps of a bombed-out church. They gathered in a circle around him. Kapaun held a crude crucifix made from broken sticks. He looked thin and filthy; except for the black eye patch, he looked to Walt Mayo like one of the ragged apostles.

Kapaun began speaking, and his voice caught; he said he didn’t have the equipment to give them a proper Mass. But then he held up his ciborium, the tiny gold container that before his capture had held communion hosts he had placed on tongues of soldiers.

He opened Nardella’s prayer missal, and as he began to recite from it, the Christians among them realized what a risk he was now taking. He was beginning not from the Easter promise of rebirth but from the dark brutality of Good Friday.

As the guards glared, Kapaun read the Stations of the Cross, describing Christ’s condemnation, torture and death. Captives who had been mocked and tormented and beaten listened as Kapaun spoke of Christ being mocked and tormented and beaten.

Tears flowed.

Kapaun held up a rosary. He asked the non-Catholics to let the Catholics indulge for a bit; they knelt as he said the rosary, recited the glorious mysteries of Christ rising, ascending, defying death for all time...


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