Are chaplains saints?
Well, up to this point none have been officially declared to be saints, but that may soon change.
An Army chaplain who died as a Prisoner of War during the Korean conflict is going to be considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Chaplain (Captain) Emil Kapaun was known for his exceptional and courageous care for the wounded before his capture, and for his exceptional and courageous care for his fellow prisoners during captivity.
This extraordinary priest served as battalion chaplain for the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was captured in Unsan, North Korea during action on November 1-2, 1950. Kapaun’s regiment took the brunt of the first battle with the hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops who had secretly infiltrated into Korea. The fighting was intense and up-close and for two days Kapaun ministered to the wounded and dying. When his unit was finally overrun, Kapaun risked his own life to plead with his Chinese captors not to kill the prisoners. This would not be the last time that Kapaun risked his own safety or sacrificed his own well being on behalf of his fellow POWs. His captors treated him horribly, but his undefeatable spirit kept hope alive in Prison Camp Number 5. Kapaun died on May 23, 1951 after enduring months of extreme hardship and cruelty for the sake of others.
The Catholic News Agency recently announced that the Cause for the Canonization of Father Emil Kapaun will open on June 29th (2008). The process of examining Father Kapaun’s life, work and teaching will take quite some time. The process includes interviews with eyewitnesses and reviews of his writings.
While the theological intricacies of saints and sainthood are a matter of some disagreement among Christians, I am happy to see this exemplary Christian life lifted up as an example to emulate and honor.
If canonized, Father Kapaun won’t be the first saint associated with Korea. In fact, there are already 103 Korean saints recognized by the Roman Catholic church, the 4th largest number from any country. Maybe there’s something in the soil or the air in the land of the morning calm.
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Update March 11, 2013: Chaplain Kapaun will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea.