A joyous day


POSTED: Saturday, October 10, 2009

ASSISI, Italy » A day that began with Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and ended with evening prayer service in the medieval Basilica of St. Francis reminded Hawaii visitors in Italy for the canonization of Father Damien de Veuster that they are more than just tourists.

In between times spent in church yesterday, the islanders took a long walk on steep cobblestone streets in the hillside village where the founders of the Franciscan religious order lived in the 13th century. It put them in a weary, footsore state that is a link to other pilgrims through the ages who did not have the luxury of an air-conditioned bus ride to reach the site of the experience.

They heard messages that this is not meant to be just an exciting adventure that ends when they fly home Tuesday. If they are successful pilgrims, they will take home the extra baggage of commitment to follow the saints they are celebrating.

“;When we come on pilgrimage, we never come home the same,”; said Sister Patricia Burkhard, leader of the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, N.Y. “;We come to understand this great and broad church of ours.

“;God raised up people like Damien and Mother Marianne Cope for our inspiration. What we are learning is that we will become better persons if we take them to heart and make some of their virtues our virtues.

“;We'll be different, and the world around us will be different. Let us go forward and make our lives like theirs.”;

The experience of worshipping in the historical churches was “;awesome, words can't describe it,”; said Leimomi Ho. “;I thought, 'Is this for real, are we really here?'”;

She and 29 other members of the Keali'ika'apunihonua Ka'ena A'o hula halau lined the aisles in the Assisi church to do a solemn hula honoring Damien.





        Live coverage of the canonization ceremony begins at 10 p.m. today, with rebroadcasts tomorrow.

» KITV, KGMB: Live from St. Peter's Square starting at 10 p.m.


» Catholic Television Network (EWTN digital channel 408): Live coverage until the ceremony ends; rerun at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow


» Oceanic Channel 16. A locally produced hourlong documentary on Damien's life will be shown at 1 p.m. tomorrow, followed by a replay of EWTN's canonization video at 2 p.m.


The pilgrim experience has a deep meaning for the kumu hula because of a personal link to Kalaupapa, where Damien served until his death in 1889. “;My father's mother, Mary Pihana Hattori, was sent there when he was 2 years old. She asked her sister to raise her children, and she was the grandmother we knew. July was my first time to Kalaupapa, but we didn't have time to find the grave.”;

With the halau and a 68-member Damien Choir along on the journey, the pilgrims are fully engaged in the prayerful events because they can join in the song.

“;How Great Thou Art”; in Hawaiian reverberated in the massive marble space of St. Peter's. “;Blessed Mother Marianne,”; a song by Patrick Downes, resonated in the Assisi church where monks sing Latin chants from choir stalls.

“;When they started singing I got teary eyes,”; said Samuel Deuz, of Waialua. He brought a lot of people with him in his heart. “;I'm grateful I came here and can go back home and talk to my children about this. I lost my mom and dad, so I thought of them while I'm praying.”;

Deacon Ernest Libario said he was not awed when he found himself reading the Gospel in the church where the pope says Mass. “;I felt grounded. I pray to God that I will be proclaiming your word, you got to hold me up. When you read the Gospel, you're carrying God's message whatever the church is.”;

“;It feels good to be here,”; said Jo Ann Takemoto, of Kaimuki. Her husband, Moses, said he routinely prays a novena—nine days of prayers—directed to Damien asking help with family.

Hawaii Bishop Larry Silva celebrated the early morning Mass at the foot of a grand sculpture of angels surrounding the chair of Peter. Several Hawaii priests and deacons joined him.

The 500 Hawaii pilgrims gathered before the main altar, which is behind the central altar where Pope Benedict XVI presides at public Masses. People could be heard singing in other distant corners of the vast church where other Masses were going on.

He said Damien volunteered for Kalaupapa while attending a joyous celebration on Maui, the opening of St. Anthony Church in Wailuku. “;It was a great celebration, but they wept because they knew there were suffering brothers and sisters.”; Damien volunteered, and his arrival at Kalaupapa was when “;the day of the Lord came to Molokai.”;

“;We are filled with joy, at the same time sadness because our brothers and sisters—the homeless, the rejected, the struggling—today are deprived of dignity,”; Silva said. “;Joy is meant to strengthen us so we can go forward, proclaim that the life of the Lord is at hand. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is very near.”;

The pilgrims gathered for a communal meal at an Assisi hotel where Lt. Gov. James “;Duke”; Aiona caught up with them. “;This is a historic day,”; he said.

Aiona said he was excited when he had dined with former President Bush.

“;To meet the pope is even more special to me because of my faith.”;

Aiona said he and his wife are on a personal trip, not funded by the state.