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Damien's divine intervention


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Retired Aiea teacher Audrey Toguchi left Hawaii on Thursday to attend Sunday's canonization of Father Damien De Veuster with more reason than her fellow travelers to be excited.

She will be singled out to interact with Pope Benedict XVI, probably to receive Communion from the pontiff, during the pageantry in St. Peter's Square in Rome, according to church officials.

Toguchi, 81, asked to be kept out of the spotlight as different local news media asked about her impending role in the event. “;Put the focus on Damien. He is the star,”; she said in an interview before leaving.

But the spotlight has turned her way since April 2008, when the pope declared her spontaneous cure from terminal lung cancer as a miracle.

Reporters from the mainland and Europe have interviewed Toguchi for the story of the 1998 diagnosis that was her death sentence, and about how the cancer disappeared after she prayed asking Damien to intervene with God on her behalf. The cure, documented by Dr. Walter Chang in the October 2000 Hawaii Medical Journal, was scrutinized by Vatican physicians and theologians before it was accepted as the final miracle required for sainthood status.

The veteran of 44 years of teaching in public schools is unflappable in the face of questions and tells the story in a matter-of-fact, nondramatic way. “;I prayed that he would ask God to heal me,”; she says. Accompanied by her sisters, Beverly Plunkett and Velma Horner, Toguchi went to Damien's original grave site at Kalawao, on the Kalaupapa peninsula.

The soft-spoken grandmother said dozens of people have called or written e-mails asking her to pray for them. “;I pray every day,”; said Toguchi, who attends daily Mass at her Aiea parish church. “;I'm not a magician, but I know who to go to for help,”; she said. She has added the names of petitioners to the St. Elizabeth Church prayer list.

“;I will carry a list of their names to put on his grave,”; she said. “;One of the things I can't wait to do is to pray at his tomb.”;

Damien's bones were removed from Kalaupapa and taken to Belgium in 1936, where they are entombed in a Louvain church. Toguchi remembers that she and other schoolchildren went to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on Fort Street to watch the casket carried in a procession to the wharf for its voyage to Europe.

“;I'm excited to go to the place where he grew up, his home where he worked as a young farmer,”; she said. The roots of the peasant priest, who brought the carpentry and care-giving skills he learned as a child to his mission in Hawaii, strike a chord for the part-Hawaiian woman. “;He came to love the people he came to evangelize. There was a huge aloha between Hawaiians and Damien.”;

As for the pageantry in Rome, Toguchi plans to wear a muumuu. She's not buying a new one: “;I have perfectly good muumuus in my closet.”;

Her husband, Yukio, will travel with her. Their son Eric and granddaughter Sarah from Washington state will join them to witness the family matriarch's role in events.

“;When you're a common person, you don't have to be a show. I leave that to Hollywood,”; she said. “;Father Damien loved the commoners. That's how he knows us, and I know he will know me.”;