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A pilgrimage that includes
A bishop and an archbishop walked in Father Damien's footsteps yesterday.
The men said Mass in the small Molokai church where Damien served as shepherd to his flock of leprosy victims more than 100 years ago.
The Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, is in Hawaii for the ordination of the new Catholic Bishop Clarence Silva.
He and Bishop Allen Vigneron, head of the Oakland, Calif., diocese, moved from the ordination pageantry Thursday to a day of pilgrimage in remote Kalaupapa.
They were accompanied by a group of priests and parishioners from the Oakland diocese as they visited historic sites in the peninsula, which was a place of banishment for victims of the disease.
The visitors talked about their common memory as Catholic school children hearing the story of heroic Damien. They expressed awe at putting the story into context: the daunting boundaries of sea and 2,000 foot cliffs, the quiet and serenity of the windblown, deserted Kalawao end.
"I just can't imagine what it meant to be sent here, isolated here for your whole life," said Juana Bothe of Walnut Creek, Calif.
"Imagine such a small place and it produced two saints," said their host, the Rev. Joseph Hendriks. The Catholic pastor of the settlement provided anecdotes that weren't in their schoolbooks, and recent news about the beatification of Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, who brought nuns from New York in 1883 to care for the patients. Both have been declared "blessed" in the second of three steps in the church's sainthood process.
"I wish I could be half the priest he was," said Vigneron of Damien. "I was impressed by his love and his boldness."
The Rev. George Mockel, vicar general in Oakland, said that as an adult he came to appreciate Damien's "sanctity in the midst of his stubbornness ... his orneriness. That gives me hope."
They were surprised and a little shy to be having personal encounters with several former Hansen's Disease patients who still live in Kalaupapa. Jacqueline Compton, an Oakland diocese secretary, and Henry Nalaielua discussed painting, an avocation they have in common. "I never expected the chance to meet patients," she said.
"Meeting patients is one more way to be in connection with Father Damien and Mother Marianne," said Vigneron.
Residents pitched in to help "Father Joe" entertain the special guests, providing a typically eclectic island potluck lunch in the St. Francis Church parish hall. Also typical of Kalaupapa is that everyone is welcome whenever there's a party, so the crowd grew, joined by National Park Service staffers, off-duty nurses and people who didn't make it to the Mass.
The papal nuncio, who has clearly dined in finer circumstances, led the line to the buffet and served himself potato salad and a turkey tortilla wrap. He chatted with residents and had numerous questions about Hawaii for Hendriks and the Rev. Lane Akiona of Oahu, but he refused to be interviewed by reporters.
Franciscan Sister Candida Oroc of Kauai considered her timing "blessed." She had just arrived for a one-week retreat, seeking silence and solitude. But she gladly postponed that for a day. She said, "It's inspiring to meet men who work for our Lord in their special positions."
The bishops merit celebrity status but they got the same light touch of reserved friendliness that residents offer all visitors. After all, this is a place that was a movie set six years ago and has been visited by royalty from European countries.
There was some talk on the porch about whether the ambassador's visit trumps the 1995 visit from Belgian Cardinal Godfried Daneels. No one had the bad manners to put the question to the visitors.