Damien miracle passes papal muster
Canonization awaits now that Benedict has affirmed the vote of a Vatican council
Kalaupapa exults ‘Saint’ Damien
VATICAN CITY » Pope Benedict XVI today approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of a 19th century Belgian priest who ministered to leprosy patients in Hawaii — opening the way for him to be declared a saint.
Benedict declared that a Honolulu woman's recovery in 1999 from terminal lung cancer was the miracle needed for canonization of the Rev. Damien de Veuster. The miracle was attributed to the intercession of the late priest, to whom the woman, Audrey Toguchi, had prayed.
The approval means that Father Damien, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995, will be canonized at a date still to be set.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints had said Toguchi's recovery defied medical explanation, and today the pope told the sainthood office's leader, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, that he agreed, the Vatican said.
"It's such an exciting time in our lives that one of our men, one of us here in Hawaii, has attained the highest rank of sanctity and will soon be declared a saint in the church," said the Rev. Christopher Keahi, head of the Sacred Hearts order of Hawaii.
Born Joseph de Veuster in 1840, Damien went to Hawaii in 1864 and joined other missionaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Nine years later, he began ministering to leprosy patients on the remote Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai, where about 8,000 people had been banished amid an epidemic in Hawaii in the 1850s.
The priest eventually contracted the disease, now known as Hansen's disease, and died in 1889 at 49.
Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva said canonization is important, "not simply as a recognition of the saintly heroism of Father Damien, but so that, following his example, we may all be renewed in holiness and in our dedication to those brothers and sisters who are most in need."
The Vatican's saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession be confirmed in order to be beatified. Damien was beatified after the Vatican declared that the 1987 recovery of a Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary nun was a miracle. The nun recovered from an illness after praying to Damien.
After beatification, a second miracle is needed for sainthood.
A date for canonization was not expected to be set until February. Damien's body was exhumed from his Molokai grave in 1936 and his remains sent back to Belgium for reburial. In 1995, a relic of his right hand was given back to the Hawaii diocese and returned to the Molokai grave.
Associated Press Writer Jaymes Song in Honolulu contributed to this report.
MAN OF MIRACLES
Gone are the days when miracles involved loaves, fishes and the parting of seas. Modern miracles typically are so-called acts of intercession, when the faithful pray to a deceased holy figure to intercede with God on their or another's behalf, often to cure an illness. If the illness then is cured — and a medical review panel finds the cure dramatic and unexplainable — that holy figure is viewed as having special influence with God. Two miracles have been credited to Father Damien:
» In September 1895, Sister Simplicie Hue, 37, a nun in France, prayed to Damien to intercede as she lay near death with an intestinal illness that modern doctors suspect might have been ulcerative colitis. The pain and symptoms disappeared overnight. Pope John Paul II recognized that as a miraculous cure in 1992 and Damien was beatified three years later. Sister Simplicie prayed to Damien, who died in 1889, because he was a member of the same order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
» In a case documented in October 2000 issue of the Hawaii Medical Journal, Audrey Toguchi, a former Aiea High School teacher, experienced a "complete spontaneous regression" of lung cancer in 1998 after praying to Damien and making pilgrimages to Kalaupapa. Toguchi, 79, granddaughter of a former Hansen's disease patient, told the Star-Bulletin earlier this year that the cancer disappeared over the course of four months. Father Bruno Benati, general postulator for Damien's cause, announced last month that the Congregation of Saints' Causes had ruled the cure a miracle linked to her prayers.