KALAUPAPA July 28th 2008: (Catholic Herald) - With a joyful Mass and luau on May 10, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Kalaupapa savored a triple crown celebration — the 100th anniversary of the parish church, the feast day of Blessed Damien and the installation of a new pastor. More than 100 people filled the gleaming white church for a music-drenched liturgy presided over by Bishop Larry Silva, and concelebrated by the pastor Sacred Hearts Father Felix Vandebroek, and Sacred Hearts Father Lusius Nimu. The guests, many of whom came to the isolated location on eight- and nine-seat chartered planes, outnumbered the parishioners — the small, aging community of Hansen’s disease patients, their caretakers and the settlement’s government workers. They assembled gradually and noisily, like a big family reunion, with plenty of hugs and kisses and leis, delaying the scheduled 10 a.m. liturgy by almost a half hour. No one minded. “You can feel the joy,” the bishop said, greeting the congregation. In his homily, Bishop Silva expounded on the image of the Good Shepherd presented in the Gospel, urging the congregation to be “shepherds in your families, in your school communities, in heath care.” Speaking of the church’s anniversary, he alluded to the church’s distinctive history. “As we come to celebrate the centennial of this holy place, we remember all those who gathered here in hope, gathered in sorrow, gathered with pain in their hearts, gathered with great joy,” he said. Citing progress being made at the Vatican in Blessed Damien’s canonization cause, the bishop hinted that he will be declared a saint within the year, saying “that this is perhaps the last time we will call him ‘blessed’ on his feast day.” After the homily, the bishop installed the 80-year old Belgian priest as pastor. Before reciting his installation promise, Father Vandebroek said he had a special message to give “to the parishioners of St. Francis.” “We love you,” he simply said. The Mass music was led by a dozen members of the St. John Vianney Choir of Kailua, frequent Kalaupapa visitors, and directed by Molokai-born Robert Mondoy who wrote or arranged most of it. A hula by four Kalaupapa residents — “God is Love” to the tune of “Makalapua” — served as a prelude to the liturgy. After Mass, the people were shuttled over to McVeigh Hall for a luau lunch complete with squid luau, sweet potato, raw crab, varieties of poke and a sheet cake with a picture of the church. Homegrown and visiting singers, dancers and musicians provided some spirited local-style party entertainment. Anyone who could grab an ukulele or knew the hula to “Boy from Laupahoehoe” was welcome to join in. Singer-composer Keith Haugen, with his wife Carmen, debuted the Hawaiian-language song “Kiloi ia” (“Discarded”), a mele about the people of Kalaupapa. “The sick people were thrown away, they were just discarded here at Kalaupapa, they were thrown without care from the big ship into the rough sea at Kalawao,” goes the translation of one of the verses. The lei-laden Father Vandebroek happily mingled rather than eat, chatting with parishioners, friends and guests. The pastor, who came to Hawaii in 1956 and has served in parishes on Oahu, the Maui and, has been at Kalaupapa since September. Resident Winnie Harada, wife of the late Paul Harada, presented Bishop Silva and visiting Lutheran Bishop Murray Finck of California with containers of Hawaiian salt her husband was famous for collecting along the Kalaupapa shoreline. St. Francis is Hawaii’s smallest, most remote, most unique parish. Because of its particular membership, there are no regular baptisms, first communions or weddings — just funerals. The parish continuously welcomes pilgrims from around the world who want to walk the soil that cultivated the sanctity of Father Damien de Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope. St. Francis Church is the successor to the church Father Damien built and used, St. Philomena, which still stands a few miles away, alone among the graves in Kalawao, the original site of the settlement that became the state-mandated destination for those who contracted leprosy in Hawaii between 1866 and 1969." The original St. Francis Church, built of wood in 1899, burned down in 1906. Construction for the present Gothic-style stone church began in 1907. It was completed the following year and blessed on May 28, 1908. St. Francis was renovated in the late 1990s by then pastor Sacred Hearts Father Joseph Hendriks.
By Patrick Downes Hawaii Catholic Herald
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