Bishop Larry Silva has created a commission to oversee Island-based efforts for Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, both of whom are on the path to sainthood. Committees are looking into myriad details: fundraising; how to get the word out; what will occur back in the Islands for those who can't make the journey to Rome for Damien's canonization ceremony, expected in 2009. No decisions can be set in ink until the date of the ceremony is decided by Pope Benedict XVI. An announcement isn't expected until February. "This is the calm before the storm," said Silva. "People are anticipating, the excitement is building. We're kind of waiting and doing what we can in the meantime. When the date is announced, we'll go into high gear. "Once a date is set, then we'll have the details on travel." The papal master of ceremonies has informed the Hawai'i group that it is customary to meet with pilgrim groups the day after a canonization, Silva said. "Hopefully, that will happen."
While 300 to 400 are expected to make the trek from Hawai'i to Rome, you can't book a plane seat or schedule a tour without a start date. "It's a tricky question," said Seawind Tours' Randy King, who's handling tour duties. "We can't do much with it until the pope decides." King is surveying likely participants about their dream trip, finding out about accessibility for the disabled and, especially, educating the masses that when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, i.e., walk cobblestone streets and take public transportation. Luckily for King, he's arranged Damien tours before. Twice. The first trip to Belgium, back in 1994, took more than 300 people, including Kalaupapa patients, to what was supposed to be Damien's beatification. But Pope John Paul II's nasty fall and subsequent broken hip turned that "beatification" into a "pilgrimage." The next year the beatification was held in Belgium with about 200 from Hawai'i in attendance. A halau attended both events, as did some of Kalaupapa's Hansen's disease patients. "We had a lot of fun with them," said King. "We made sure they were treated very special." The number of Kalaupapa patients who can travel is shrinking, but this time King expects an even bigger crowd. About 100 people already have registered. "It's a mix of the community so far É mostly Catholics," he said. "A guy yesterday called, and asked, 'Do I have to be Catholic to go?' I told him, 'No. (Damien) was for the good of all people.' "
King's goals for the trip are lofty. "We know what works for the masses, but we want to make this a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and hit as many people's (dreams) as possible," he said. "We'll try to be as flexible as possible. Most have never been to Europe." To accomplish that, he's been surveying churchgoers as they pour out of Sunday services at St. Augustine's, where he attends, and asking those who signed up for suggestions. Nancy Berry, who is in her last year as head of Ho'ala School in Wahiawa, hopes there's some leeway in the tour. One way or the other, she's making the trip. "Sign me up!" she said. "I saw it in the paper last week, and I immediately (thought) I'm there." King expects to arrange visits to the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum, the ruins of the Coloseum, and Rome's catacombs. And there will be a daily Mass. "Right now, we're looking at one hotel to house everybody, but that depends on the date," he said, then added how beautiful St. Peter's Square looks in the morning light: "We hope to be close enough to walk."
The bishop will return from Rome with a very special piece of luggage, one that warrants its own seat. "When we get back, I will have the relic with me of Father Damien," said Silva. The relic, or piece of Damien's remains, is expected to be the heel. Background: In 1936, Damien's body was taken to Belgium long after his death at Kalaupapa in 1889, but a relic was requested and granted during the beatification. The remains of his right hand made the return and were interred in his original grave beside his church, St. Philomena's, in 1995. It was carried in a special koa box, which will be used again to transport this relic. "The plan is to take it to different islands, and make it available for veneration," Silva continued. "Ultimately, we'll have it at the cathedral, which is in the process of renovation. We plan to have a shrine. It would have the relic, as well as a relic of Mother Marianne. "Of course, it will take a few years before we're done." The bishop hasn't been able to get a lot of answers yet, such as whether "liturgical movements" like hula will be allowed, if an oli can be chanted or whether Hawaiian music — like that which Mondoy is composing — can be included in the ceremony. "I am not the postulator of the cause," said Silva. "My understanding is, the postulator does most of (the liturgy). In fact, I e-mailed the pope's master of ceremonies and asked questions. He e-mailed back and said basically, I need to talk to the postulator."
The postulator general, or primary advocate in charge of the case, is the Rev. Alfred Bell of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Rome. He was appointed in August. The Revs. Lane Akiona and Chris Keahi, Sacred Hearts fathers based in Hawai'i, are coordinating with the bishop as well. During the canonization, a tapestry bearing the likeness of Damien will be unveiled; that's being handled by the Sacred Hearts fathers, and will be completed in Belgium. Their order also requested and was granted permission for the renaming of the Catholic community on Moloka'i, one parish with four churches, for Damien. When a new church in Kaunakakai is built to replace St. Sophia's, which used to be the main church, it will be named St. Damien.
About a dozen Hansen's disease patients hope to make the trip for the canonization, said Sister Alicia Damien Lau. "The electricity is in the air," she said. "It's a good thing, and it's a scary thing. So chicken skin." Tempering their joy is the realization that their friends didn't live to see the day. Four patients have died in the past year, Lau noted. "That's hitting everybody," Lau said. "Everybody is feeling the impact of aging with complex medical problems. When I talked and asked them if they wanted to go to Rome, the question is, 'Can I go?' " Nearly all who can make the trip will bring family or companions. The ones who can't? "Their heart wants to be there," Lau said. To offset the cost of their transportation, the bishop's commission has established a bank account for donations. Lau knows other Kalaupapa regulars — medical staff, people from the National Park Service — hope to be Rome-bound, too. Lau said Silva will be very sensitive to those who aren't able to make the trip. "The bishop plans to bring the relic to Kalaupapa first," she said. They may not miss it completely, if Venny Villapando, who's on the bishop's commission, has his way. He's made contact with Eternal Word Television Network to learn more about the simulcast. In similar circumstances, Villapando taped a recent canonization and Mass aired on the Eternal Word network, noting that there's a 12-hour time shift. "There was also a repeat broadcast," said Villapando. "I'm keeping tabs." Villapando quakes at the thought that the canonization might occur at 3 p.m in Rome, which is exactly half a day ahead of Hawai'i. "If that happens, we're in trouble," Villapando said. If all goes well, the Damien simulcast will start at 10 p.m. local time. The commission is debating whether to have a viewing party that night or the next day during a repeat broadcast — at a large venue or several smaller venues.