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Navy chaplain join pilgrimage

Staff writer

Wichita priest Eric Weldon organized the first Father Emil Kapaun pilgrimage four years ago as a spiritual journey, a time for participants to reflect on their relationship with God.

“You’re physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. You ask the Lord to fill you up,” he said. “Life is a journey.”

Some of the 84 participants in the three-day walk Friday through Sunday from Wichita to Pilsen came further than others. Father Joe Coffey is a U.S. Navy chaplain in charge of the recruitment effort for chaplains in St. Louis, Mo. He is originally from Philadelphia, Pa. He said he attended the mass for Emil Kapaun last year at the culmination of the pilgrimage. He vowed to return this year and participate in the walk.

Coffey has an affinity for Kapaun because they have done the same work, albeit in different conflicts.

Kapaun ministered to U.S. Army soldiers until his death in a North Korean prisoner of war camp during the Korean War. Coffey ministered to Marines fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan.

“I would hear confessions,” Coffey said. “I would provide them with spiritual comfort. It’s a dual honor — on our collar we have our rank and a cross. We serve God and we serve our country.”

The pilgrimage provided Coffey with some spiritual comfort. He said it was a good mixture of prayer — the group said the Rosary at different times when resting — and silent reflection.

However, physical comfort eluded Coffey during the 60-mile trek.

“It humbled me,” he said.

Last modified June 7, 2012

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