Over the past almost two years our country has become more and more bereft of Servant Leadership. It seems that the fear at first created by the Pandemic has continued to be enhanced and is now moving more freely into lock downs at short notice, mask wearing, mandating of vaccines in workplaces an social settings – with more acceptance by us that this formula offers HOPE of being FREE again. I have my doubts that this is the answer – but hopefully I am wrong.
Nonetheless the majority of the population is compromised. Borders are closed haphazardly with little warning, people are unable to seek medical care, or visit loved ones who are sick or dying, suicides are increasing, as is loneliness, domestic violence, obesity and alcohol consumption. Businesses are disrupted, some closed for good and more people are homeless or requiring food.
Leadership is supposed to offer a pathway to improve a situation. provide the basis of action to achieve this pathway and it needs to offer Care, Hope and Belief that the pathway is correct and we can all get there together – without division, without confusion, without derision between people with opposing views.
Leadership needs to FOCUS on our SPIRITUAL ELEMENT – not neglect and over-ride it. In the name of Saving Lives as its one premise.
I wanted to relate a story from the Korean War that displays Servant Leadership, care, hope, service and humility.
The story of Fr Kapaun
The Korean War is one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. Millions of people lost heir lives in a three-year period.
When the fighting ended in 1953 and group of American soldiers emerged from a POW camp from the darkness of the war holding a large a meter high CROSS carved out of fire wood on which had been placed a Crown of Thrones fashioned from barred wire.
A Jewish soldier made it in honour of the Catholic Chaplain who had given so much, as well as his life, help to them. He name Fr Emil Kapaun –
He grew up in Kanas and eventually became the priest there. He felt that God was calling him to the front lines. He became a Military Chaplain and entered the Korean War. He was known by his intense devotion to the men – whom he called “my boys”. And they loved him for it.
He put thousands of miles on his jeep to Christ and the Eucharist to the everyone on the front lines. He would celebrate Mass on the hood of his jeep. Out in the middle of the fighting or where ever he was able.
On November 2nd 1950 a battle broke out. He was with a few thousand American soldiers and they were over run by Communist soldiers. And in the ensuring chaos Fr Kapaun ran straight into the heavy fighting. Dragged people to safety, comforted people who were dying, and tending to people who were injured.
Even after the sound to evacuate – he kept doing his work. One of the men whose life he saved that day – Sgt. Herbert Miller – who was lying on the ground and wounded and a Communist soldier was about to end his life with a rifle.
Fr Kapaun ran across, pushed the soldier aside and lifted Sgt. Miller off the ground. The soldier could have ended both their lives – instead, he stood in awe at the act of bravery and the concern Fr Kapaun showed toward the American soldier. Stunned and amazed at what Fr Kapaun had just done – with courage and love – he let them walk away and hobble away.
A death march ensued. All the soldiers were made to march and those who fell and couldn’t walk – were shot. Fr Kapan carried Sgt Miller for the entire 40 miles to the POW camp. And along the way he helped and encouraged other soldiers – who were about to give up their lives – to go on.
In the camp he was like a mother to all those soldiers. He would sneak out of camp to find food to supplement their starvation rations. He found a way to make a piece of metal into a bowl so he could boil water and save the men from dysentery.
He helped to keep them clean, he would wash their clothes, he would lead them in prayer. He would celebrate Mass in secret when he could. He led one Easter service and captured the soldiers so deeply that they all lifted in song and praise to God – the Spiritual Element however you describe it.
The Communists hated him for the HOPE he brought to his fellow prisoners. They would make him stand naked in the bitter cold for hours. They brought him to classes where they educated him on Communist Ideology.
When he finally got sick, they saw this as their chance to get rid of him and his influence. They brought him to a ‘death house’. They called it their hospital but no one ever came back alive. He knew it was the end.
The soldiers were crying and begging them not to take their priest away. But he comforted them.
He said “Boys I am going where I have always wanted to go. When I get there, I will pray for you”
The last thing they saw him do in this life was to bless the men who were taking him to his death by saying:
“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”
Fr Kapaun is the most highly decorated Chaplain in all of American military history. When he was finally the Medal of Honor in 2013 – 9 of the men he had helped in the prison camp were present. Including Sgt. Herbert Miller.
No doubt there are 100s of similar stories that still lie buried in the earth and snow and wind. But when the chapter of human history is over – fear, evil, death, darkness doesn’t get the final word.
Love does. Love of God. Love of fellow man. Our Spiritual element with needs hope, care, humility, service – does.
This is a lesson for all of us – in these times – and other times. That while we need to tend to our Physical, Emotional, Family, Finance as part if life – SPIRITUAL VALUES AND VIRTUES of Hope, Care, Service, Selflessness are omitted at our peril.
I wait for a Leader on the political, business, corporate to do the same.
However, don’t wait for them – because it is our responsibility to fill OUR SPIRITUAL ELEMENT and improve our own lives and those of others.
Perhaps Fr Kapan can inspire us to this.