Kalaupapa exults ‘Saint’ Damien
The priest who devoted his life to leprosy patients on Molokai will be canonized
By Leila Fujimori
People across Hawaii rejoiced at the news that Father Damien De Veuster was closer to being declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Sister Frances said people at the Kalaupapa convent "have been waiting forever, it seems," for the canonization of Father Damien, who ministered to leprosy patients at Kalaupapa in the 1800s.
"He deserves it, and it's a long-awaited process for him," she said. "He gave his life for it, for the disease. People say you lay down your life for your friend. He literally did that, so I say he deserves it."
In Rome today, Pope Benedict XVI approved the canonization documents for Father Damien, which had been approved and signed by cardinals and bishops in the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, according to church officials. It was the final approval on the part of that body.
Father Felix Vandebroek of Kalaupapa said he got a call yesterday morning from Belgian Catholic Church officials that "the canonization of Father Damien would be most probably in 2009."
The canonization would most likely take place in Rome, though the last one was in Brazil, Patrick Downes, a local spokesman for the Catholic Church said yesterday. It is unlikely the pope would come to Hawaii for canonization due to the cost and distance, he said. Damien, however, was beatified in his homeland of Belgium in 1995 on account of a miracle cure of a French nun in 1895.
Damien was considered for sainthood after a requisite second miracle was reported by Aiea resident Audrey Toguchi, who prayed at Damien's grave in Kalaupapa after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She wrote to the late Pope John Paul II that after four months without treatment she was cured in 1997.
Residents in Kalaupapa have heard the news and "everybody is happy about it," Vandebroek said, but added that it may not have sunk in yet.
"To realize what it really means, it takes a little while," he said. "They all are enthused, Catholics and non-Catholics, but not exactly jumping high from joy. You can tell it in the feelings. They feel that Damien is their hero."
Vandebroek, also a Belgian expressed his own feelings: "You feel proud. You feel happy. You feel grateful for what he did."
Bishop Larry Silva said plans are being made for local celebrations and pilgrimages and for a pilgrimage to Rome and Belgium.
Parishioner Maria Sullivan, a former Seattle resident, said she moved to Molokai because "it was the Hawaii I was longing for, and Father Damien called me."
"Father Damien had a very challenging life, and he deserves this recognition," she said. "Many of us believe he's a saint in heaven and he deserves this recognition because he was such a wonderful steward and he extended everyday kindnesses to people. ... He built a community of love where there was none."