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Spreading his spirit


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The canonization of Father Damien De Veuster is the pinnacle of recognition for his heroic life as a “;servant of God, servant of humanity,”; but leaders do not see it as a finale.

“;It's not the Catholic Hall of Fame,”; enshrining history, said Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva. A saint is a role model for future generations.

“;What I hope most of all with these celebrations is that we catch more of Damien's spirit, his love of God and his dedication to those who are in need,”; said the leader of Hawaii's 220,000 Catholics. “;We have an affordable-housing task force looking at involving people at the grass-roots level that I hope will get a boost from Damien.”;

And there is a recent initiative to bring help and dignity to people who are modern-day outcasts. The church's Office of Social Ministries has opened a housing complex for recently released prisoners.

“;If they don't have somebody to help them, with decent values, help to find a job, get the social skills to live productively in society, they are back to old habits, bad choices and back in prison,”; the bishop said.

“;Damien was a very practical man,”; Silva said. “;If there was a project, he just broke it down, figured out what parts needed to be done, went after the resources and did them. That's what we hope to do with affordable housing and the homeless issue related to that.

“;If it remains a complex, bewildering issue, most people will do nothing, not because they don't want to, but because they don't know what to do,”; Silva said. “;What you need is to get people down on the ground making it happen.”;

On a lecture circuit, the Rev. Herman Gomes, a Sacred Hearts priest as was Damien, talks about Damien's volunteerism. He has talked to church groups, taught classes and spoken at the Red Mass for federal, state and municipal government leaders, each time making the point that everyone can follow Damien's example in some way.

Damien volunteered to come to Hawaii to take his ailing brother's place as a missionary, volunteered to take a rigorous assignment on the Big Island, volunteered for service in the place of banishment.

“;He could have been comfortable where he was, but the energy was there and the desire to seek to do good,”; Gomes said. Those traits are not reserved for saints. “;One of the bottom lines for me is that God has a way of working with each of us, and he knows what's best for each of us.”;

Damien Memorial School Principal Michael Weaver said, “;He just went out and took care of what was his responsibility. If we want to know what we can do to change our little corner of the world,”; he is the model.

Damien students planned to celebrate the canonization with community projects Friday near their Kalihi campus. They painted buildings at St. Theresa School, St. Anthony Church and St. John the Baptist Church, cleaned at the Institute for Human Services and organized the food pantry at Palama Settlement.

Not surprisingly, what Damien did is

woven into the spectrum of classes at his namesake school. “;It's not just a topic for religion class, but for all different subject matters,”; Weaver said. “;For government classes, when we talk about social justice, he would come into that discussion, speaking up for people who didn't have a voice. He becomes for us the epitome of our school motto, 'Act manfully.'”;

Silva said: “;We can romanticize Damien. He could not have accomplished all that he is said to have accomplished by himself. It would be humanly impossible. I think Damien was a leader, and leadership means getting your hands dirty and it means getting other people involved.

“;I always say the leader gets credit for doing things. We talk about Damien building these houses, but he didn't do it alone. He certainly pounded many of the nails himself; others were inspired to pick up the hammers and saws.

“;We need leaders but also need the people who will do the simple but very, very important and necessary tasks.”;

The bishop added, “;It's important to remember that he probably didn't do things perfectly.”; Damien wrote to the church leaders in Honolulu about his frustration that no other priest was nearby to hear him confess his sins.

“;Just the fact that it bothered him that he could not go to confession more often is an indicator that he was not a perfect man. He probably overstepped his bounds. He

wasn't perfect. He is a saint but saints aren't perfect. We are all called to be saints, so there is hope for us all.”;