View from the Pew
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sacred Heart Sister Herman Julia Aki and Kalaupapa resident Catherine Puahala conversed prior to mass at St. Francis Church on Saturday. Also pictured are Akenese Togiai and Sister Jessie Kai.
Catholic and Protestant church efforts aim to ensure Kalaupapa retains its cherished significance
KALAUPAPA, Molokai » "It's a spiritual place." That expression invariably falls from the lips when someone who has been to Kalaupapa tries to describe the experience. Whether it affects a visitor who took the day trip with Damien Tours or a person privileged to linger longer, the feeling sets in: There's more here than what can be seen.
Anyone who gets to the remote Molokai peninsula knows the story of the place, how people faced fear and adversity with faith and courage. It's a story that can get hung up on the negative details, the isolation of people because of their sickness, the chaotic state that existed when the quarantine began in 1866. But mostly it's a positive story and spirituality is a thread throughout it.
If a spiritual place involves a quiet and serene space in which to encounter the divine, this is it.
Hawaiians have always known Kalaupapa as a sacred place, said Lori Ka'uinalani Higa, a kumu hula from "topside" - all of Molokai that exists at the top of the 2,000-foot cliffs that isolate the 11,000-acre peninsula. The teacher for a small halau in the village, Higa visited last Saturday for the centennial celebration for St. Francis Church.
The Catholic hosts for the party, as well as the Protestants whose church is a block away, want to ensure that future generations may learn from the spirituality that sustained the people who have
belonged to Kalaupapa.
"I want to assure, as much as I can, that this place will be a sacred place, a place to pilgrimage," said Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva, who presided at the Saturday Mass at the church. The Catholic Church has focused on Father Damien De Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope, who ministered to the spiritual as well as the health and practical needs of 19th-century leprosy patients. Both are expected to be declared saints for their work.
"What happened here, with not only Damien and Marianne, who are certainly icons, but all of the others who did very heroic work, is something that needs to be carried on," Silva said.
The history of Christian spirituality at Kalaupapa predates those potential saints. Some of the first people exiled organized a Congregational church they called Siloama for the Biblical city of Shiloh. The wooden-frame church they completed in 1871 is still cherished and used.
Siloama and St. Philomena's Church, which was completed by Damien and patients in 1876, are in Kalawao at the north end of the peninsula. The Catholic diocese and the United Church of Christ own the buildings, which are on state land.
Kanaana Hou - New Canaan - Church in downtown Kalaupapa is the scene of a 9 a.m. Sunday service of scriptural readings and music led by the members. A clergyperson comes from outside on the last Sunday of the month to conduct a Communion service at Siloama.
Charles Buck, United Church of Christ Hawaii conference minister, said both Catholics and Protestants are participating in planning for the future of the spiritual place. "We do it in the context of Ka Ohana O Kalaupapa" - a group of former patients, families and supporters, and the National Park Service and state Department of Health, agencies that administer the settlement.
"The idea is to keep on telling the story, to make Kalaupapa a pilgrimage destination. It can be a place for people to be able to come, have a retreat, learn the history and be transformed by it," Buck said.
"We have to balance that by attending to the needs of the patients still there. We want them to give voice to how that pilgrimage will be. We want to be sensitive to tell the story without invading their privacy."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
A Father Damien statue is draped with leis and rosaries inside St. Philomena Catholic Church at Kalawao.
The Rev. Lon Rycraft, who was Kanaana Hou pastor for 11 years, said, "The church has been here all these years, and they should continue to have access."
Rycraft said, "My idea was for a spiritual retreat. ... and that's a wide-ranging sort of idea. What's spiritual for one is not for another."
There's a good working model for a retreat to Kalaupapa, and the accent is on "working." A team from Kilohana United Methodist Church in Honolulu spends a week in Kalaupapa each August, painting church buildings, cleaning and doing yardwork for patients. The Rev. Alan Mark started the program 23 years ago. There's prayer involved, and fellowship with residents, and as much time and quietude as anyone wants.
Rycraft, now a pastor in Washington state, said people for generations ahead will learn from the history of Kalaupapa, from the faith and strength of generations of patients and the people who helped them, known as "kokuas."
"It is the church, in the broader sense of church, that responds to people in need all over the world. Kalaupapa is a window into that," Rycraft said.
The Hawaii-born Silva has had a reverence for Kalaupapa's future saints for years before he was named bishop. On one occasion he guided Lt. Gov. James Aiona and his wife, Vivian, on a visit, saying Mass in Damien's church, combining prayer with history for "a time of spiritual renewal." Last November, the bishop brought 14 priests along for the same purpose.
Silva created a Father Damien and Mother Marianne Commission, which is preparing a pilgrimage guide. It will include a short synopsis about the history of each significant site, scriptural readings, and prayers written by the Rev. Joseph Hendriks, former Kalaupapa pastor. It could be used by groups or by a person on a solitary spiritual journey.
The bishop said the guide will probably be used to commemorate the spirituality of Kalaupapa through a "virtual pilgrimage" in the parish back home.
The tiny spot on the map of Hawaii will never be the destination for mass pilgrimages like the kind enjoyed by such sites as Fatima and Lourdes in Europe. The practical reality is only one small airline has scheduled flights with room for fewer than two dozen people per day. There's a state law that no more than 100 nonresidents may visit the place on any given day.
The fact that it is truly remote is a significant part of why Kalaupapa can remain a spiritual place.