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I can feel St. Emil's Fire burning in me

There are more than 10,000 saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, an astounding figure that works out to about 51 per country. Plus, you have to figure that there aren’t a lot of saints coming out of, say, China or Iran or any country with a “stan” in its name, so we can assume the saints-per-country ratio is even higher in places that actually have Catholics, right?

Yet somehow just two of those saints, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Katherine Drexel, were born on American soil. Only Drexel was born after the United States declared independence. Three other foreign-born saints lived most of their lives in America, but that’s it. That’s all we’ve got.

I’m not mentioning this to suggest the Vatican has some sort of anti-U.S. bias, although I feel like I’ve heard others suggest that. I’m just saying that American Catholics must be doing a lousy job of selling their candidates. In a week, the U.S. will turn 233 years old. There’s 60 million Catholics in this country. In all that time, the best we can manage is two saints?

Fortunately, Catholics and other concerned Americans have a chance to do something about this injustice right now. An investigator from the Vatican, a man by the name of Andrea Ambrosi, is arriving in the U.S. today — possibly even as you’re reading this sentence — to investigate claims of a miracle and calls for canonization emanating from a tiny Kansas town.

The story goes something like this: Back in October, Chase Kear, a member of the Hutchinson Community College track team, fell on his head in a pole-vaulting accident and cracked his skull from ear to ear. His brain started to swell, and his doctors’ only option was to remove a piece of his skull to ease the pressure on his brain.

The doctors told Chase’s parents it was likely that either the surgery or the infection that could follow it would probably kill their son. They were told three or four times that Chase wasn’t going to make it. A priest at the hospital was summoned to perform last rites. Chase’s situation was way beyond critical.

A few weeks later, he walked out of the hospital, on his way to a near-complete recovery. These days Chase is working a summer job and plans to coach the pole vaulters on the Hutchinson track team. I don’t know that I’d want him coaching me, given the manner of his accident, but I wish him the best of luck.

The fact that he lived is so astonishing, it seems, that even his neurosurgeon called Chase’s survival a miracle. His parents and others echoed that sentiment, tossing about the word “miracle” so frequently that people began to notice. That’s where the Vatican’s Mr. Ambrosi comes into the story.

The miracle is being chalked up to one Father Emil Kapaun, a U.S. Army chaplain from Pilsen, Kansas, who died in a Chinese prison camp in the Korean War. After the war, his fellow detainees returned home with numerous tales of Kapaun’s bravery, heroism and faith, and many of them have been calling for sainthood for Kapaun for decades.

In fact, so highly regarded is Father Kapaun in south-central Kansas that many Catholics in the area pray to him rather than God or Jesus or Mary. The moment they learned of Chase’s accident, the Kear family started praying feverishly to Father Kapaun and convinced hundreds of other area Catholics to do the same. This, they all claim, is why Chase survived.

Mr. Ambrosi will investigate the Kear family’s claims on behalf of the church in Rome, which requires miracles to elevate a person to sainthood. Should it appear the claims have some merit, it would be a huge boost to Kapaun’s chances, given that the church has been considering his case for years now.

America needs this to happen, people. We need another saint born on our soil. The rest of the world’s opinion of the U.S. is pretty bleak right now, and I think it goes without saying that the Catholic Church in America is in dire need of some positive spin. An American-born saint could only benefit both causes.

What can you do to help? Well, I think that’s pretty obvious; regardless of your religion, start praying. But don’t waste your time praying to some enigmatic “higher power.” Pray instead to an Army chaplain from Pilsen, Kansas. I’m sure the Kear family would tell you that he’s actually listening.

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Todd Hartley

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06 2009

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