- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - It’s going to take a miracle for a Kansas native who died in a North Korean prison camp to reach sainthood, Catholic leaders from Wichita were told during a meeting with Vatican City officials.

Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme said he thinks it will be at least five years before Korean War hero Father Emil Kapaun will be considered for beatification. That’s the step above where Kapaun now ranks as a “Servant of God” on the sainthood ladder, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/1WJkoW6) reported. Full canonization is the highest rank.

Wichita Catholic leaders had hoped the Vatican might make Kapaun a saint in the next couple of years, but Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a group of cardinals that makes recommendations about sainthood to the Pope, decided the Pilsen, Kansas, native would not be declared a martyr. That is significant, because martyrdom would have allowed him to advance toward canonization.

Kemme provided the cardinals a 1,066-page “positio,” a book containing 14 years of research on Kapaun’s life by the Wichita diocese and Andrea Ambrosi, a Vatican investigator. The book includes stories documenting Kapaun’s deeds as a parish priest and U.S. Army chaplain who saved hundreds of lives - both in battle and in a prison camp during the Korean War. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 from President Barack Obama.

Fellow prisoners of war have argued that Kapaun was martyred in 1951 when Chinese Army prison guards killed him for standing up for his faith, but Vatican officials said nobody actually saw Kapaun die in that camp. There are only stories of how he was carried off to a “death house” in the prison camp. He was apparently alone when he died of starvation and illness in May 1951.

The church, trying to guard the credibility of all of its sainthood investigations, has decided to take more time and study all other evidence of Kapaun’s life as a priest and chaplain.

Without martyrdom, the church requires candidates for sainthood to have a “miracle” associated them, which in Kapaun’s case has not yet occurred. The church thinks it has two possible miracle candidates, both of which include Wichita-area young people who survived serious medical conditions with no medical explanation for their survival.

In October 2006, a 12-year-old girl who was near death for 87 days with an autoimmune disorder recovered after her parents, priest and area soccer clubs prayed to Kapaun. Two years later, 20-year-old Chase Kear, a member of Hutchinson Community College’s track team, fell on his head during pole vaulting practice and suffered a traumatic brain injury. His friends and family prayed to Kapaun, and Kear walked out of a rehabilitation hospital a few weeks later.

If the Vatican decides their survivals were miraculous, it could help advance Kapaun to beatification.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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