July 1, 2013

The Face of Christ

         
Korea, 1953:  A group of newly freed POW camp survivors are finally released after over two years of captivity that was a daily struggle for survival against disease, malnutrition, fear, and the threat of despair.  It would have been understandable if they had left this place empty-handed, without a second glance back after all they had suffered there.  However, a small group of determined American soldiers would not leave the camp without two remembrances: a gold ciborium and a crucifix carved in honor of the man who led them through their terrible imprisonment:  a priest who tried to live as Christ did, a man for others.
            Father Emil Kapaun was a priest of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, who served as a military chaplain during World War II and the Korean War.  His story has recently become more known because his cause for canonization is being examined and he posthumously received the Medal of Honor this year.  I recently had the opportunity to read a biography of his life, and was inspired by his example.  During this “Fortnight for Freedom,” his life can help us to understand our part in protecting religious liberty.
«  First, Father Kapaun is a priest:  he was selfless, brave, and always working for others; he led by example, always putting the enlisted men before himself and the other officers; he encouraged the men to never give up and to help each other.  In a word, he showed these soldiers the face of Christ.  And because of this, they would have followed him anywhere. 
«  Second, Father Kapaun was pro-life before the term was ever used: he went into the thick of battle to rescue the wounded and perform last rites, worked from dawn to dusk to keep the men healthy in the camp, performing repugnant tasks to ward off disease, encouraging them to eat their meager rations which were hard to digest.  When he was sent to the camp “hospital” from which he would not return, he brought his stole and holy oils to bring the sacraments to the dying.  All of this was done because life was a gift from God, a sacred gift worth fighting for. 
«  Finally, Father Kapaun was truly American, and that meant that he understood that truth is the foundation of civil government, not force.  During Communist propaganda classes at the camp, Father Kapaun was not afraid to tell the teachers when they lied, and would calmly argue against false ideologies.  The prison guards were afraid of Father Kapaun because of his courage and influence with the other prisoners.

Let us pray and fast for an end to new threats to freedom, especially those that threaten the exercise of religious liberty.  Let us discern what God is asking of us during this watershed moment for our nation.

- Sister M. Mediatrix, FSGM

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