World embraces caring soul


POSTED: Sunday, October 11, 2009

VATICAN CITY » Damien De Veuster, the Belgian priest who sacrificed his life ministering to the forsaken leprosy victims at Kalaupapa in the 19th Century, was added to the litany of Roman Catholic saints today in a solemn Mass led by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica.

The canonization ceremony of Father Damien of Molokai ended a decades-long effort by supporters who considered him worthy of the church's highest honor.

The crowd, estimated in the tens of thousands, included the Aiea woman whose cure from a deadly form of cancer was attributed to her prayers to Damien. The church considers her cure as one of the two Damien miracles—a key requirement for sainthood.

An early-morning thunderstorm led officials to change the venue of today's Mass from the outdoor St. Peter's Square to the majestic St. Peter's Basilica.

The skies had mostly cleared as 600 pilgrims from Hawaii waited in line for two hours outside the Basilica, from 7 to 9 a.m. in Rome for their chance to witness Catholic Church and Hawaii history.

Pope Benedict's formal proclamation ushered five new saints into the Catholic Church, including Hawaii's Blessed Father Damien De Veuster, now St. Damien.

“;He doesn't just belong to us,”; said Gayle Early of Maui. “;I'm absolutely shocked how many people are here for Damien. We think he belongs to Hawaii—who knew he was so famous in Spain?”; she said.

A Spanish choir sang songs in honor of Damien before the pope entered the basilica at about 10 a.m. to preside over the Canonization Mass.

Patients from Kalaupapa, some in wheelchairs, were ushered to the front of the basilica.

Audrey Toguchi, 81, of Aiea was chosen to participate in the Mass, as was Dr. Walter Chang, who diagnosed her terminal lung cancer in 1998. The tumors disappeared after she prayed for Damien's intercession with God to heal her.





        Today is St. Damien Day in Hawaii, according to a state proclamation presented to pilgrams in Rome by Lt. Gov. James Aiona Friday night.

“;His service and ministry at Kalaupapa has perpetuated the spirit of aloha, and has offered hope and inspiration to past, present and future generations,”; the proclamation said. “;In Hawaii, Damien remains a spiritual hero and an icon of love, compassion, humility and humanitarian service.”;


Aiona and Gov. Linda Lingle signed the proclamation Oct. 1 to recognize Damien's contributions to the people of Hawaii. It was presented to Bishop Larry Silva and other Hawaii residents attending the ceremonies at the Vatican.


Aiona said he used personal funds to pay for his trip to Rome with his wife.




Toguchi and Chang presented gifts to the pope.

Damien was not the sole center of attention. People also crowded in to support Jeanne Jugan, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor; Polish Archbishop Zygmunt Felinski, who founded a religious order for women after being exiled 20 years in Siberia; Father Francisco Coll y Guitart, a traveling evangelist in 19th-century Spain; and Friar Rafael Arnaiz Baron, a Spanish Trappist monk who died at 27 and draws followers for his writing on spirituality.

The majority of Hawaii residents witnessing the elevation of the man they already considered Hawaii's saint were members of a pilgrimage tour led by Catholic Bishop Larry Silva. They were discernible as a mass of yellow baseball caps in the crowd.

Special guests included the king and queen of Belgium, Damien's homeland; U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka; U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz; and others designated by President Barack Obama as the U.S. delegation to the event, including Steve Prokop, superintendent of the National Park Service, which maintains and administers Kalaupapa today.

Sitting teary-eyed in the crowd were Monica Bacon and her mother, Mercedes Hutchison Bacon, whose grandfather's brother was one of Damien's closest friends. They held copies of photographs of Ambrose Hutchison, who went to Kalawao in 1879 as a patient, became a supervisor for the Board of Health and died in 1932.

“;I think Father Damien would wonder what the fuss is all about,”; said Monica Bacon. “;He was a person of action when others weren't. We're here to honor him and a member of our family.”;

;[Preview]    Father Damien

A preview of Father Damien's canonization

Watch ]


Born Joseph De Veuster, he took the name Damien when he joined the Sacred Hearts order, the name of a 3rd-century doctor who was martyred because he was Christian. He came to Hawaii in the place of his ailing brother and served on Hawaii island for nine years as pastor and builder of churches. He volunteered to serve as pastor at Kalawao, the place of banishment for leprosy victims on the Kalaupapa peninsula. He died of the disease in 1889 after 16 years of service.

The Rev. Javier Alvarez-Ossorio, leader of the Sacred Hearts congregation worldwide, said canonization celebrates God, “;the spirit that created such a masterpiece as Damien from human clay.”;

Alvarez-Ossorio said that instead of an artist's interpretation of Damien, they chose to use a photograph showing the ravages of the disease on his right hand and face for the banner flying outside the basilica. “;The hand of Damien is shown here; in Kalaupapa it was the hand that helped, blessed people, building churches and houses,”; said the priest.