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Tales of heroic, miraculous acts dulled by poor writing, editing

"The Miracle of Father Kapaun" by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heyling. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2013). 160 pp., $19.95.
 "Padre Pio: Glimpse into the Miraculous" by Pascal Cataneo. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2013). 170 pp., $12.95.

Reviewed by Graham Yearley

If courage was the only requirement to become a saint, Father Emil Kapaun (pronounced kuh-PAHN) would have been declared a saint 50 years ago, just after the Korean War. Stories of his heroism and self-sacrifice in a prisoner of war camp after he was captured by the North Koreans in November of 1950 began to spread as soon as survivors returned to the United States.

The Miracle of Father KapaunThese survivors included Herb Miller, whom Father Kapaun carried piggyback the entire length of the march to the notorious prison camp of Pyoktong, a journey of several weeks. In the camp where prisoners were starved, survivors have testified that Father Kapaun grew skillful at stealing food and making cooking pots and utensils to feed his fellow prisoners. He nursed men, celebrated Mass, and comforted and encouraged soldiers who were ready to give up.

Father Kapaun resisted and mocked attempts at indoctrination by the North Koreans and Chinese, who were both baffled by and fearful of the priest from Kansas. Sometime in the late spring of 1951, Father Kapaun died, weakened by starvation and exposure, but he was not forgotten.

Born April 20, 1916, Emil Kapaun grew in the farmlands of Kansas, the child of Czech immigrants. He went to local public schools and then an abbey high school and college before being ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita, Kan. He served in parishes where his knowledge of Czech was useful.

But he tired of parish life and signed up as a military chaplain and was soon sent to Korea. There he quickly gained a reputation for fearlessness as he constantly rescued wounded soldiers under withering fire, persisting even when officers and soldiers had ordered him to stop.

Being declared a saint usually involves lengthy and expensive campaigns by individuals or groups committed to the cause. In general, before sainthood is declared, the church must confirm two miracles attributed to the intercession of the candidate. The first miracle is needed for beatification and the second for canonization. The Vatican is looking into claims by two young Americans that the priest's intercession brought about their full recovery from medical catastrophes.

"The Miracle of Father Kapaun" tells the story of Chase Kear, who was walking within weeks of a pole-vaulting accident where he landed on his skull and of Avery Gerleman, who returned to complete health overnight after hovering at the edge of death for a week as her body shut down, organ by organ. In both cases prayers to Father Kapaun are credited for saving their lives.

Survivors of the camps and other veterans fought to have Father Kapaun awarded the Medal of Honor and were disappointed year after year; there was the growing fear that no eyewitnesses to the chaplain's heroism would be left. But finally, on April 11 of this year, Father Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.

The story of Father Kapaun and the subsequent campaigns to honor him are deeply dramatic events that could make for riveting reading. But "The Miracle of Father Kapaun" was so badly edited in what one supposes was the rush to capitalize on Father Kapaun winning the Medal of Honor that the story gets muddled as it shifts with cinematic speed between stories.

St. Padre Pio has already been canonized and has been the subject of several biographies. The recent "Padre Pio: Glimpses into the Miraculous" is one of the newest.

Before his death in 1968, Padre Pio was famous for extraordinary healings and controversial, supernatural events, including receiving the stigmata in 1918. They brought a fame that often tortured Padre Pio as he felt people confused him with the real source of his miraculous powers, God.

However, "Padre Pio: Glimpses into the Miraculous" makes this fascinating man and his acts boring as one healing after another is recounted. One story of God breaking into human existence well told is more powerful than 37 examples spun out one right after another.

Yearley graduated from the Ecumenical Institute at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, with a certificate of advanced study in theology.

Catholic News Service

October 24, 2013

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