Respectful reflection


POSTED: Tuesday, October 06, 2009

LOUVAIN, Belgium » Music filled the air at the final resting place of Father Damien de Veuster yesterday as Hawaii pilgrims encircled the black marble slab under a bright arched ceiling at St. Anthony Chapel.

To the strains of “;Hawaii Aloha,”; each visitor laid an anthurium blossom on the tomb, visited by thousands of pilgrims each year, but perhaps never with such island ambience.

It was the third day in the 19th-century missionary's homeland for about 350 Hawaii residents, who were to fly to Rome today to join others in events leading to the canonization ceremony for Damien on Sunday.

Bishop Larry Silva presided at a Mass attended by the Hawaii contingent in the chapel containing a bronze statue and a stained-glass window depicting Damien embracing the sick. In the front row were 11 Kalaupapa residents, former leprosy patients, who are a link to the saint for their fellow travelers and welcoming Belgians.

Planners set aside time for Audrey Toguchi, whose spontaneous cure from lung cancer was deemed a miracle attributed to her prayers to Damien, to pray at the crypt. But true to the communal spirit of the pilgrimage, she was joined by Silva and other Hawaii clergy and members of the Keali'ika'apunihonua Ka'ena A'o hula halau, who chanted during the brief visit.

Other visitors waiting a turn for a brief prayer at the tomb included halau member Kathryn Mahealani Wong, who brought a bouquet she was given after a performance at a Sunday festival at Damien's home town. She performed an oli, chanting the words of grieving composed by the late kumu John Lake for the Damien beatification celebration in 1995.

“;We all have our Kalaupapas,”; Silva told the congregation at Mass.

“;We can be critical of those people who chose to isolate people in Kalaupapa. But we have our little ways of isolating. It doesn't take oceans or sea cliffs to isolate people.

“;In this time of economic crisis, we've heard so much criticism of those people at the top who didn't care very much about those who are poor. How many countries would look at us in the developed countries and say, 'Haven't you done the same thing? You have taken the resources of the world and left us in dire poverty.'

“;We pass by our brothers and sisters each day and say, 'It's not my problem. It's not my business. I don't have time.' So we don't bother tending to their needs.”;

;[Preview]    Damien's Family Shares His Humble Beginnings

KITV4's Pamela Young and photographer Rex Von Arnswaldt take us on a tour of Damien's childhood home.

Watch ]


By chance, the gospel reading for yesterday was the familiar story of the good Samaritan who gave aid to an injured robbery victim, an appropriate story to invoke Damien's service to leprosy victims in Kalaupapa.

“;He was a human being, not a parable character,”; Silva said. “;That is what it is to be a saint, to be face to face with God.”;

The islanders have been singled out by Belgians for hospitality, seen as a live chapter in the story of Damien. They were guests yesterday at a lunch in a 12th-century town hall hosted by the municipal government of Bruges.

Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe presented Silva with a 20-foot-long tapestry showing Damien and the Sacred Hearts priests who came as missionaries to Hawaii, a sample of a traditional Bruges craft.