May 2nd. 2008 (Mail on Sunday) - The Vatican today cleared the way for the canonisation of the unofficial patron saint of HIV/Aids sufferers. Theologians have ruled that a Hawaiian woman was inexplicably cured from lung cancer as a result of praying at the graveside of Blessed Damien de Veuster, a Belgian missionary. His cause now needs only to be rubber-stamped by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints and given the nod from Pope Benedict XVI before he can be declared a saint. His canonisation, expected later this year, will draw hundreds of thousands of supporters to Rome because of the huge following that has grown around Father Damien since his death more than a century ago.
The Belgian missionary, who died in 1889, became famous for living among lepers in the Pacific islands - only to die from leprosy himself. He has been adopted by many HIV/AIDS sufferers as their unofficial patron saint because they feel stigmatised by their disease in the same way lepers were in previous centuries. He is also the patron saint of Hawaii, where his statue stands outside the state parliament building. After a poll in Belgium in 2005 Father Damien was named “the Greatest Belgian throughout Belgian History”. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Brussels in 1995 following the first of two "miracles" needed to declare him a saint.
The second miracle is said to have come after Audrey Toguchi, now 80, who had aggressive lung cancer, prayed for healing at his graveside in Molokai, Hawaii. She had been strongly advised to undergo chemotherapy but refused, telling doctors that she wanted to instead pray to Blessed Damien, whom she had admired since a child. The cancer disappeared without treatment. The case was documented by Dr Walter Chang, the woman's doctor, who is not a Catholic, in the October 2000 issue of the Hawaii Medical Journal.
Father Damien, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, died in1889 at the age of 49. He had been working with lepers segregated on to a colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, knowing all along he would eventually contract and die from the disease, for which at the time there was no known cure. Hawaii's other candidate for sainthood is Blessed Marianne Cope, Father Damien's successor in Kalaupapa, who was beatified in 2005.
By SIMON CALDWELL
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