St. Damien relic graces local faithfuls


POSTED: Sunday, November 01, 2009

Kalaupapa » A relic of St. Damien De Veuster rested briefly yesterday at the church where he led his Kalaupapa congregation in worshipping God 130 years ago.

The lei-bedecked koa box containing a heel bone of the priest was placed before the altar for a joyous, music-filled Mass in St. Philomena's Church.

The relic has been the focus of services and veneration at churches on five islands since it was brought back to Hawaii from Rome after the Oct. 11 service in which the 19th-century priest was declared a saint for his service to leprosy victims banished to the Molokai peninsula.

In an ancient church tradition, the relic is meant to give congregations a feeling that Damien is among them.

But, said Kalaupapa resident Norbert Palea, “;He's always been here with us. He's not leaving.”;

Palea pointed to Damien's grave beside the church. The remains were removed to Belgium in 1936, but the bones of his right hand were returned in 1995 and are buried there.

For residents and visitors alike, the grave site was just one of so many ways to evoke St. Damien.





St. Damien De Veuster will be honored today for his role in Hawaii's history in a public celebration at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, the Iolani Palace grounds and the state Capitol.


Today's events begin at noon at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral on the Fort Street Mall. Hawaii Bishop Larry Silva will preside at Mass, joined by Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and 12 California bishops.


The celebration moves to Iolani Palace at 1 p.m. where the relic will be honored with chants, music, hula and speakers from multiple religious faiths.


At 3:10 p.m. Hawaiian groups will carry the reliquary to the statue of Queen Liliuokalani on the state Capitol mall to commemorate her role in the presentation of the Royal Order of Kalakaua medal to the priest for his service in Kalaupapa.


After another stop at the Damien statue at the Capitol grounds, the procession will return to the cathedral at 5 p.m. for an evening prayer and blessing of a Damien shrine, where the relic will be permanently on display.


Star-Bulletin Staff


They were gathered in a church he helped build. His silver-plated chalice was used at the altar during Mass. The adjoining field contains graves of people he buried, whose coffins he built. The rocky black beach visible nearby is a graphic reminder of the harsh conditions faced by people put ashore to finish out their lives.

The idea of walking where Damien had walked was in everyone's minds as residents and visitors, including a Belgian cardinal and 12 California bishops, started the day at the foot of a 3.2-mile switchback trail leading down from the top of 2,000-foot cliffs. There they met youths from Molokai and two Damien Memorial School seniors from Oahu, who took turns carrying the relic down the trail.

“;Walking down the trail that Damien walked, it really got to us,”; said Jerick Sablan.

“;He as an example for us as a man, and more so now he's a saint,”; said Jonathan Padron.

“;It was really a cool experience for us,”; said Travine Johnson, who with his brother Ralph and Kamalani Bicoy, all members of the Kaunakakai St. Damien parish, were also relic-bearers.

“;It's exhilarating to participate here today,”; said Damien Memorial School President Bernard Ho, among those meeting the procession. He said the boys were selected for the honor because of their grades and involvement in community service and campus ministry.

“;Damien often said 'yes' to things he never could have foreseen and had never planned,”; Cardinal Godfried Danneels said.

“;He says to us today: 'Do not set me too high on the podium. Come up there yourself and do what I did.' Those who honor Damien must be able to say 'yes' a lot,”; Danneels told the crowd.

“;If Damien must become a patron of something, should it not be as the man of all those working on hopeless causes? Every age has its outcasts, its new 'lepers,' its rejected and marginalized. We can think of AIDS patients, but there are countless others: alcoholics, drug addicts, those with severe depression, hopeless young people, immigrants who have no homes.”;

Sister Margaret Wouters, who grew up in Damien's hometown of Tremelo, has followed his example. She has been involved in social work with the poor in Ecuador for 25 years as a nun with the Immaculate Heart of Mary order. “;I feel this man is so close to me; I wanted to see this place where he gave his life.”;

After the ceremonies, the relic was flown to Oahu for ceremonies today.

Priests and nuns with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious order to which Damien belonged, and Sisters of St. Francis, whose members have worked as nurses in Kalaupapa since the first nuns arrived in 1888, were hosts for the celebration.

“;It makes me sad that the relic is going away and won't be back here,”; said Kalaupapa resident Ivy Kahilihiwa. “;Today was like having a family gathering, even though we don't know each other.”;