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Blessed Damien


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POSTED: Saturday, May 02, 2009

A chalice, liturgical robes and other artifacts used by Father Damien DeVeuster will be displayed next week during a memorial observance of his work as minister to leprosy victims banished to Kalaupapa.

Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in downtown Honolulu will be the setting for evening prayer vigils on three nights leading up to the May 10 celebration of the Damien feast day. The vigils will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and next Saturday.

The Rev. Chris Keahi, Hawaii leader of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to which Damien belonged, will preside at the noon Mass on May 10.

Members of the religious order and other Catholic organizations will gather at the state Capitol at 1:30 p.m. to drape leis on the statue of Father Damien.

The observance is a low-key beginning to festivities that will reach a crescendo on Oct. 11 in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI will declare Damien a saint in a canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square.

Eight former leprosy patients now residing in Kalaupapa will be among more than 500 island residents who will travel to Rome to attend the canonization.

Tickets are now on sale for a July 18 fundraising banquet at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel.

The proceeds will be used to underwrite the travel costs for the patients and caregivers who will accompany them. Tickets are $200 per person. Corporate sponsors are also being sought.

The fundraiser will also support creation of an endowment for scholarships for native Hawaiian students to the John A. Burns School of Medicine. The scholarship program will be named for Richard Marks, a Kalaupapa resident who died last year. Marks was a local leader in the Damien sainthood cause and the longtime operator of Damien Tours, taking outsiders to the sites where Damien and the 8,000 people banished there made history.

The priest was ordained at the Honolulu cathedral in 1864 after his arrival in Hawaii from his native Belgium. After serving Big Island congregations, he volunteered to serve at Kalaupapa, where he arrived on May 10, 1873. Besides being a spiritual advisor, Damien was an advocate for government help and care for the abandoned people. He served as a carpenter, community organizer and health caregiver. He contracted the disease and died on April 15, 1889, at the age of 49.