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Father's good works serve as guide to all, bishop says


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POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

The tradition of declaring and revering exemplary people as saints is a centuries-old tradition in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the oldest branches of Christianity.

“;We certainly canonize saints because we are all called to be saints,”; Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva told Honolulu news reporters yesterday. “;I hope that Damien's canonization will be the occasion for us to be renewed in our faith in God and our commitment to serve others — the poor and the needy — as Damien did.”;

Although named by the church, “;I believe saints speak to people beyond the church,”; said the Rev. Richard McNally, vicar general of the international Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Damien belonged to that religious congregation, which was the first to send Catholic missionaries to Hawaii.

“;The saints remind us that there is so much more than the obvious and the superficial, that life is sacred and filled with God's presence and that real life never ends,”; said McNally, an American priest. Now second-in-command of the organization with headquarters in Rome, he worked in Hawaii in 1992 as an associate pastor at St. Ann Church in Kaneohe.

“;Many saints were mystics who left writings about prayer and union with God,”; McNally said in an e-mail interview. “;Damien and Mother Marianne Cope did not do that, but the depth of their love for the poor and outcast was itself evidence of their deeper communion with God. They could not have done what they did if they were not in touch with God. Their kind of holiness can be appreciated by loads of people who would not even use the word 'holy,'”; McNally said. Cope, a Franciscan nun, also served in Kalaupapa and has passed the second of three steps in the saint-naming process.

Damien is one of 10 people slated for canonization this year. Most of the others were founders of religious orders in Europe. More information is available on the Web page http://www.catholichawaii.org.

Pope Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, set a record in recognizing saints in an effort to restore a devotional tradition he thought the church had lost. He canonized 482 people, more than the 17 previous popes combined.

Damien's work was publicized during his lifetime by 19th-century writers including Robert Louis Stevenson. But efforts to get official church recognition didn't begin in earnest until the 1930s when the Belgium monarchy asked to have his remains returned to his homeland.

In 1977, the Catholic church recognized that Damien had lived a life of “;heroic virtue”; and he was declared “;venerable.”; Pope John Paul II declared him “;blessed”; at a 1995 beatification ceremony in Belgium, his homeland.