View from the Pew
Devoted to Damien
St. Augustine's is preparing for the canonization and the pilgrims with new goods
Saints and sacred places have always attracted pilgrims, and entrepreneurs have always found ways to profit from the travelers' interests.
That's no news to anyone who has visited Buddhist and Hindu shrines and ruins in Asia; Middle Eastern landmarks of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths; and the myriad historical and devotional Christian sites in Europe.
Marketing is not a new concept in Hawaii, not even among churches, but it has taken a while for it to catch on with the folks with a claim on a famous almost-saint whose ministry to leprosy patients has been a hero story for more than a century.
Now -- ta-dah -- there is a line of goods memorializing Father Damien DeVeuster on sale in Waikiki. Books, statues, CDs, ornaments, holy cards and posters are available after the Sunday morning masses at St. Augustine Church at Kalakaua and Ohua avenues. It is a fairly new enterprise, set in motion by the Rev. Lane Akiona, who took over as pastor last year.
He responded to queries from visitors and a revival in local interest stimulated by Catholic Bishop Larry Silva since he arrived in Hawaii two years ago.
A new line of Damien posters will be unveiled tomorrow: a $5 black-and-white block print, a $10 portrait of the priest as a young man, two sizes of the better-known image of the older Damien, hat and spectacles not disguising the ravages of leprosy.
"It's not just tourist demand; local people are asking for it," said the Rev. Paul Zaccone, associate pastor of the Waikiki church, who hustled the posters into print in time for this Thursday's observance of Damien's feast day. The wares on sale also include $300 bronze statues designed by local artist Karen Lucas and $100 plaster and wooden ones from Brazil and Vietnam. At the bargain end of the scale are $1 postcards and holy cards for 50 cents. Prospective buyers may inquire by calling the rectory, 923-7024, or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The priests are members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as was Damien.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Father Lane Akiona shows some of the Father Damien merchandise for sale at St. Augustine Church in Waikiki.
Damien came to Hawaii from Belgium in 1864, joining other missionaries of the French-based order. He ministered to people on the Big Island and built churches at several locations. In 1873 he volunteered to serve in Kalaupapa, a remote Molokai peninsula where leprosy victims were exiled. He worked there for 16 years, building shelter and helping provide medical aid and social structure as well as spiritual support for hundreds of people. He contracted the disease and died in 1889 at the age of 49. His work was lauded during his lifetime by Robert Louis Stevenson and other writers, but only in the past three decades has the cause for his sainthood progressed through the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church. Damien was declared "blessed" in 1995 by the late Pope John Paul II, and the final stage in the process, being named a saint, is stalled in the Vatican's timetable.
"We're preparing ourselves for when he is canonized," Akiona said. "We know pilgrims will come in droves." He said the master plan for the Waikiki church provides for a gift shop and restoration of the Damien Museum, which was closed four years ago because of security and insurance concerns.
May 10, anniversary of his arrival at Kalaupapa, is on the worldwide Catholic liturgical calendar as the feast day of Blessed Damien. It is observed annually with a lei-draping ceremony at the Damien statue on the state Capitol grounds.
This year's observance will be cranked up several notches to an event. The bishop will speak at the ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Caitlin Arde, a student of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Ewa Beach, will read her essay that won first place in a contest revived this year. Actor Terence Knapp will reprise his role with a soliloquy from Aldyth Morris' play "Damien." The Damien Memorial School band will play, and Sacred Hearts Academy girls will dance.
The participants will then walk to Our Lady of Peace Cathedral for a special 10:30 a.m. Mass to be celebrated by Bishop Silva. New Mass music composed by former Sacred Hearts Academy student Cynthia Chun Kam and her former academy teacher Paulie Keliikoa will be sung at the service.
Patrick Boland, a member of the bishop's new commission on Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, also on the sainthood track for her service to leprosy patients, said the expanded celebration "is a recognition of the importance of their lives today and increasing interest in them. People are expressing an interest in making pilgrimages to Kalaupapa and other places associated with them. We're hopeful that sainthood status will be conferred in the future."
The Sacred Hearts priests planned ahead in their poster designs. The word "blessed" stands alone at the top of the print. It can easily be edited to "saint" in a future press run.