Friday, July 4, 2008

Belgian Priest who treated Leprosy Patients in Hawaii Moves Closer to Sainthood

(Left Fr. Ed Popish, sscc Right Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu)
HONOLULU, Hawaii: July 3rd. (International Herald Tribune) - The question of whether Father Damien, a Belgian priest who dedicated his life in the 19th century to serving leprosy patients in Hawaii, will become a saint is now in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI. The pope on Thursday will be presented a document attributing a modern miracle to the priest, who helped leprosy patients exiled to a remote peninsula on Molokai, one of the Hawaiian islands. "At that point we will have to wait, with patience and prudence," the Rev. Ed Popish, treasurer of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in Rome, said in an e-mail Wednesday.

Under the Vatican's saint-making procedures, two miracles must to attributed to the candidate's intercession in order for the person to be made a saint. If the first miracle is approved, the person is beatified, and if the second miracle is approved, the person can be made a saint, or canonized. In 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified Damien after church authorities determined he had been responsible for a miracle in 1895. The second miracle has to do with a Honolulu woman, Audrey Toguchi, who recovered from terminal lung cancer in 1999 after she made a pilgrimage to Kalaupapa, where Damien had cared for banished and quarantined leprosy patients. She prayed to the priest, and attributed the healing to the intercession of Damien. The case was written up in the Hawaii Medical Journal in 2000 in an article about complete spontaneous regression of cancer. Her doctor also encouraged her to report her recovery to the church.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, comprised of bishops and cardinals, recently agreed that Toguchi's recovery defied medical explanation. "It's such an exciting time in our lives that one of our men, one of us here in Hawaii, has attained the highest rank of sanctity and will soon be declared a saint in the church," said the Rev. Christopher Keahi, head of the Sacred Hearts order of Hawaii. Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva said canonization is important, "not simply as a recognition of the saintly heroism of Father Damien, but so that, following his example, we may all be renewed in holiness and in our dedication to those brothers and sisters who are most in need." More than 8,000 people were banished to the remote Molokai peninsula after leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, became epidemic in Hawaii in the 1850s. Forced quarantine did not end until 1969 after drugs were developed to control the disease. Born Joseph de Veuster in 1840, Damien came to Hawaii in 1864, joining other missionaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He went to Kalaupapa nine years later, ministering to patients until he contracted Hansen's disease himself and died in 1889 at the age of 49.
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