Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Father Damien's Footsteps

Father Damien will be officially recognized as a saint Oct. 11, 2009, according to a recent Vatican announcement. His canonization, some 14 years after Pope John Paul II beatified him, may also be a blessing for Molokai, where the Belgian priest spent the last 16 years of his life serving those exiled to its infamous leper colony.

Molokai has been hard hit by the closing in late 2007 of Molokai Ranch, home to two of the island's three hotels, a golf course, cinemas and gas station, all now shuttered, as well the source of important ranching jobs, now lost. One of the few tourist activities widely associated with Molokai is the mule ride down to Kalaupapa, the isolated peninsula where some 8,000 people diagnosed with what the Hawaiians called ma‘i Pākē ("Chinese disease") lived and died. Leprosy is now called Hansen's disease, and Kalaupapa is now a national historic park, with just a handful of former patients living (voluntarily) on site.

But you don't have to ride mules down: You can book package trips from Maui that include ferry tickets and a guided hike down (and then up) a steep, 1,700-foot cliff with more than two dozen switchbacks; it's almost 6 miles round trip. You can also fly to the park, from Oahu and Molokai's "topside" airport in Hoolehua (Ho‘olehua in Hawaiian), or arrange to hike one way and fly the other. Among other sights, you'll see St. Philomena's Church, which Father Damien helped expand, and memorials to the priest and Mother Marianne Cope, who helped Father Damien and expanded his work.

Only Damien Tours, however, is allowed to lead visitors through the site; reservations are required (808-567-6171), children under 16 are not allowed and tours do not run on Sunday. Sadly, the founder of Damien Tours, Kalaupapa resident and self-described "leper" Richard Marks, passed away in 2008, just two months before Father Damien's canonization was announced. I never had the honor of taking a tour with Marks, but you'll find him being interviewed in the 2003 documentary "An Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story."

A visitor gazes on the statue of Father Damien outside of St. Joseph's Church, which the priest built.

A visitor gazes on the statue of Father Damien outside of St. Joseph's Church, which the priest built. (Photo Jeanne Cooper)

If you're traveling with kids, can't hike the steep 6-mile round-trip, or happen to be afraid of heights, mules and/or flying, you can still experience Father Damien's legacy on Molokai. A lei-adorned, weathered statue of the priest stands outside St. Joseph's Church in Kamalo (Kamalō) on the island's east side, which he built in 1876; his portrait also hangs inside. The indefatigable priest also built Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Kaluaaha (Kalua‘aha), where his hat-clad silhouette graces the sign by the road, as well as two more topside chapels that no longer survive.

The two remaining churches can be visited independently, or as part of an all-day, guided van tour offered by Molokai Outdoors. They're part of today's Blessed Damien Catholic Parish, which will change its name to St. Damien Catholic Parish upon his canonization. The new St. Damien Catholic Church in Kaunakakai is expected to open in 2011, when it will replace St. Sophia's and become a focus of topside Damien devotion.

If you can't visit Kalaupapa itself, you should still drive to the end of Highway 47 to Pala'au State Park, which boasts a stunning overlook of Kalaupapa ("the flat leaf") and the tiny town of Kalawao. The sheer green wall -- part of the world's highest ocean cliffs -- rising above the peninsula and the lonely little town below reinforce the sense of isolation and abandonment the residents once felt. Father Damien was not the first person to minister to the leper colony, nor the last, but when he died of Hansen's disease at age 49, after years of labor on the patients' behalf, he came to epitomize all who lay down their life for another's.

The Kalaupapa Overlook at Pala'au State Park reveals the stark isolation of the former leper colony.

Jeanne Cooper

The Kalaupapa Overlook at Pala'au State Park reveals the stark isolation of the former leper colony.

So who was Father Damien? Those who responded to my Sunday Quiz on Feb. 22 correctly responded that he was born Jozef de Veuster (also written "Joseph de Veuster") in Belgium, in 1840. (Congrats to Vivian Ho of Palo Alto, Carrie Temple of Dixon, Kas Nakamura of Pasadena, Md., Chris Engleman of Boulder, Colo., who will receive a small Hawaii-themed prize.)

Inspired to become a missionary to the "Sandwich Islands" by his older brother, who had hoped to go but became to ill to leave, de Veuster took the name Damien (Damiaan in Flemish, after St. Damianus) during his ordination in Honolulu in 1864. He then served eight years on the Big Island, where he learned to speak Hawaiian while building eight chapels and churches for his parishioners in the Puna, Kohala and Hāmākua districts.

Damien also spent time on Maui, where on May 1, 1873, he learned of the suffering at Kalaupapa from a newspaper article, according to his biography for the Greatest Belgian award ("De Grootste Belg.") Eight days later, he was on a boat to Molokai, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rudy, tour driver for Molokai Outdoors, talks about Father Damien inside St. Joseph's, one of four churches the priest built

Rudy, tour driver for Molokai Outdoors, talks about Father Damien inside St. Joseph's, one of four churches the priest built "topside."
By Jeanne Cooper

No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

First Catholic Missionaries in Hawaii

On July 7th. 1827, the first Catholic missionary priests arrived in Hawaii. They were Frs. Alexius Bachelot (France), appointed as Prefect Apostolic, Abraham Armand (France) and Patrick Short (Ireland). Three non ordained brothers of the Congregation arrived with the priests. (Protestants of Congregationalist background had arrived in 1819). They were all members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. Following the General Chapter of 1824, Fr. Pierre Coudrin, who founded the Congregation in France in 1800, petioned Rome for a mission territory and was allocated the Sandwich Archipelago, later called the Hawaiian islands. A strong catholic community emerged in these early years but due to political pressure by Queen Kahahumanu who had become a Protestant, the Catholic missionary priests were forced to leave Hawaii in January 1832. The non ordained brothers of the Congregation were not effected by the political expulsion so they stayed on to support the small catholic community. While ongoing tensions were to exist for many years between the Protestant and Catholic missions, Catholic priests were reluctantly allowed to return in 1839, one year before Damien's birth in Tremeloo, Belgium and 25 years before his arrival in Honolulu.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

A Time of Transition at Kalaupapa

From the pali trail on north Molokai, one gets a panoramic view of the 10,000-acre Kalaupapa National Historical Park, site of a 142-year-old settlement for Hansen’s disease patients. (CHRIS HAMILTON photo)
National Park Service planning for future of Molokai historical park
KAHULUI, Maui News: April 24, 2009: - Just in the past year, the historic Kalaupapa leprosy settlement lost seven of 26 remaining patients with the long misunderstood and now curable disease. The youngest patient residing today at Kalaupapa National Historical Park is 68 years old, said park Superintendent Stephen Prokop. Add to the equation the onslaught of Catholic pilgrims anticipated after Father Damien's Vatican canonization as a saint Oct. 11, and Kalaupapa undoubtedly has reached a turning point, Prokop said. He made the comments Wednesday evening at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center during one of 12 public workshops organized by the Park Service to discuss the settlement and help chart its course for the next 30 years.

For the past year, the National Park Service has been preparing a general management plan for the 10,000-acre park, which is located on a Molokai peninsula with the world's tallest sea cliffs to its back. The park is accessible only by footpath, small plane or boat and has a cap of 100 visitors a day. The planning process, which is expected to take another three to four years to complete, also includes the creation of an environmental impact statement, said project manager Anna Tamura. Planning also could lead to more than tripling the park's acreage along the northeast shoreline. She said the workshops are just the first step in the process. The deadline to receive comments is July 13, but another set of meetings is planned for a year from now. Park Service workers and planning consultants are meeting with people who say they care deeply about Kalaupapa, many of whom have relatives who lived and died there during the settlement's 142-year history.

Foremost, the Park Service has been looking to the residents themselves for guidance, Prokop said. "The patients are our most important resource at Kalaupapa," he said. "Unfortunately, we are in a transition period and must prepare for a time when there are no longer any patients." For a century, Hawaii patients with leprosy, or Hansen's disease, were separated forcibly from their families and children and sent to Kalaupapa until 1969, even though a cure was discovered in the 1940s. Today, 12 people permanently live in the settlement, with others who live there part time. Their care is provided by the state Department of Health. One of them is Meli Watanuki, 74, who was relocated to Kalaupapa in 1964 and "paroled" in 1972, she said. People with the disease now need only outpatient care. "What I value most is the story of the people," said Meli's husband, Randall Watanuki, who is a kokua, or helper, for the Park Service. "There is no comparison to what they went through." He said patients not only lost their families and were ostracized from society, but in the process were deprived of their self-esteem. And it was because they had a gene possessed by only 4 percent of the population that they were even susceptible to the disease. "These are people who just had a bad break," he said.

Other testifiers, including members of the support group Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa, mentioned again and again how Kalaupapa feels like a special or spiritual place, filled with elements of hope, sadness and extraordinary natural beauty. They also spoke about patients who built fulfilling lives for themselves within their isolation. "It is truly one of the last Hawaiian places," said Bill Evanson, Natural Area Reserve Maui manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "There is so much aloha there."

About 40 other people attended the two Kahului discussions. Their most common recommendations:
- Don't change a thing, unless it's to continue renovating the settlement's historic dorms, homes, meeting places, churches and graveyards.
- Create ocean and wildlife sanctuaries to further protect Kalaupapa's delicate natural environment, and also counter attacks by invasive plants and overpopulation by feral and introduced animals.
- Don't allow it to become commercialized with a "Disneyland atmosphere" or people hawking St. Damien T-shirts and trinkets. "That's totally against what the National Park Service stands for," Prokop said.
- Improve security to prevent visitors from stealing souvenirs, such as pieces of Damien's grave or church, and hire more rangers to hunt down poachers.
- Add more historical markers to tell the story of Kalaupapa as well as the Native Hawaiian people who lived there for 800 years prior to the settlement's establishment in 1866.
- Build an interpretive center and produce an instructional video - that provides historical background, and the do's and don'ts of visiting Kalaupapa - which is a common practice at other federal parks.
- Maintain some kind of quotas for the number of park visitors daily, but eliminate current age restriction for those 16 years old and younger.
- Park officials said the cap is mainly in place now to protect the privacy of the residents. But they added that even if more people were allowed to visit, Kalaupapa's inherently limited infrastructure, notably a shortage of toilets and fresh water, would naturally curb the number of visitors.

At least in the Maui workshops, there seemed to be no renewed talk of Molokai Native Hawaiians moving into the settlement's homes someday or building on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property within the park. "That would be like living in Auschwitz. It's too sacred a place," said Lloyd Gilliom of Maui, a Native Hawaiian who has family members who live "top side" on Molokai as well as relatives buried at Kalaupapa. It is estimated that at least 8,000 patients and likely many more Native Hawaiians died at Kalaupapa. The park is filled with unmarked and yet-to-be discovered graves, Kalaupapa advocates said.

Kalaupapa has been a national park since 1980 and today has 34 employees and 100 structures. The Park Service was invited to the settlement by the patients, led by "the mayor of Kalaupapa" Richard Marks, who died last year. Currently, the park land is owned by a combination of the federal government and state departments of Land and Natural Resources, Transportation and Hawaiian Home Lands. A sliver is owned by private parties. The Hawaiian Home Lands lease with the park expires in 2041, while the federal government and DLNR are in discussions this year to renew a 20-year lease. The Park Service pays $200,000 a year to lease the land in the settlement, and Prokop said he was confident that that arrangement would continue indefinitely.

More pressing, Prokop said, is a proposal to re-evaluate a 1998 park-boundary study that would add 24,000 acres of the adjacent north-shore cliffs. Much of that property, which stretches to Halawa Valley, is owned now by The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and the privately owned Pu'u O Hoku Ranch, he said. Some of Wednesday's discussion also revolved around whether the Park Service would allow Molokai Native Hawaiians to continue subsistence hunting and gathering in the park. There appeared to be support for the idea as long as it was monitored closely. Meli Watanuki said she's seen rare and expensive opihi and sea salt marked "From Kalaupapa" being sold at a Honolulu farmers market, which upset most of the evening meeting participants. Most of Kalaupapa is overseen by the Health Department, but as patients have passed away, the state has been spooling down its involvement while the Park Service has been ramping up, Prokop said. "We gotta preserve everything and no change nothing," Meli Watanuki said. That not only means repairing buildings, but also sharing and perpetuating the stories of leprosy patients; Father Damien; his contemporary, Mother Marianne Cope - who also could become a saint someday; as well as Native Hawaiians, she said. "They (the Park Service) know what they do," she said. "I speak from the heart to keep this a federal park. . . . They will never forget."
By Chris Hamilton (chamilton@mauinews.com)
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Damien dies 120 years ago today

In October, 1885, Damien wrote his superior, Father Leonor Fouesnel, in the Hawaiian Islands: "I am a leper. Blessed be the good God. I only ask one favor of you. Send someone to this tomb to be my confessor." (This was three years before Conrardy's arrival.) He wrote his General in Rome, "I have been decorated by the royal Cross of Kalakaua and now the heavier and less honorable cross of leprosy. Our Lord has willed that I be stigmatized with it.... I am still up and taking care of myself a little. I will keep on working...."

The announcement that Damien had leprosy hit his own religious superiors, Father Fouesnel and his bishop, Hermann Koeckemann, like a thunderbolt. Damien was the third Sacred Hearts missionary stricken with leprosy. To prevent further infection, Father Fouesnel forbade Damien to visit the mission headquarters of the Sacred Hearts Fathers in Honolulu. "If you come," Father Superior advised Damien, "you will be relegated to a room which you are not to leave until your departure." Father Fouesnel suggested that if Damien insisted on coming to Honolulu, he stay at the Franciscan Sisters' leper hospital. "But if you go there," the superior counseled, "please do not say Mass. For neither Father Clement nor I will consent to celebrate Mass with the same chalice and the same vestments you have used. The Sisters will refuse to receive Holy Communion from your hands." One can understand the superior's concern. But Damien was being forced, nevertheless, to consume the bitter wine of loneliness to its dregs. He now knew not only the physical sufferings of Christ but the harrowing loneliness and abandonment of his Savior. Damien did go to Honolulu and remained at the leprosarium from July 10 to 16. It was during the time that he arranged with Mother Marianne to come to Molokai. He spoke of his rejection by his own as "the greatest suffering he had ever endured in his life."

The Sorrowful Mother

Catherine De Veuster, Damien's mother, had lived all these years on the occasional letters he wrote to her from Molokai. He had tried to keep her from the news of his leprosy. But inevitably she found out. Someone advised her that the newspapers said, "the flesh of the leper priest of Molokai was falling off in hunks." It was too much for Catherine. Now eighty-three years of age, a widow for thirteen years, the shock of the sufferings of her son broke her old heart. On April 5, 1886, about four in the afternoon, turning her eyes for the last time toward the image of the Blessed Mother and the picture of her son, she bowed her head in that direction and died calmly and peacefully.

Doctor Mouritz, medical attendant at Molokai, charted the progress of the physical dissolution of Damien's body. He writes: "The skin of the abdomen, chest, the back, are beginning to show tubercles, masses of infiltration.... The membranes of the nose, roof of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx are involved; the skin of his cheeks, nose, lips, forehead, and chin are excessively swollen.... His body is becoming emaciated."

An ever-deepening mental distress accompanied Damien's physical dissolution. A severe depression, as well as religious scruples, now plagued the leper priest. Damien felt he was unworthy of heaven. The rejection by his religious superiors left him in near disarray. Once he claimed: "From the rest of the world I received gold and frankincense, but from my own superiors myrrh" (a bitter herb). His superiors complained about Father Conrardy's presence on Molokai. Conrardy was not a religious of the Sacred Hearts, and they felt that Damien had encouraged his presence there as a reproach to their ineffectual efforts to provide him with a companion. Soon after Damien's death, the Sacred Hearts superiors maneuvered Father Conrardy out of the colony.

As death approached, Father Damien engaged in a flurry of activity. He worked as much as his wounded and broken body would permit him. He wrote his bishop, entreating not to be dispensed from the obligation of the Breviary, which he continued to recite as best he could as his eyes failed. The disease invading his windpipe progressed to such an extent that it kept him from sleeping more than an hour or two at night. His voice was reduced to a raucous whisper. Leprosy was in his throat, his lungs, his stomach, and his intestines. After ravaging his body outwardly, it was now destroying him from within.

As the end drew near, there were priests of his own Congregation to hear his confession. They had come with the Franciscan Sisters. On March 30, one of them, a Father Moellers, heard Damien's last confession. The leper priest had requested a funeral pall, which the Sisters made from him and delivered from Honolulu. It arrived the same day. Two more weeks of suffering, and on April 15, 1889, Damien died. It was Holy Week. Some weeks before, Damien had said that the Lord wanted him to spend Easter in heaven.

Once he had written, "The cemetery, the church and rectory form one enclosure; thus at nighttime I am still keeper of this garden of the dead, where my spiritual children lie at rest. My greatest pleasure is to go there to say my by beads and meditate on that unending happiness which so many of them are enjoying." And now it was his turn to occupy a little plot of ground in "his garden of the dead."

He no longer meditated on that unending happiness, but now most surely possessed it. Long ago he had selected the precise spot for his grave amid the two thousand lepers buried in Molokai cemetery. Coffin bearers laid him to rest under his pandanus tree. It was the same tree that had sheltered him the day he read those fateful words: "You may stay as long as your devotion dictates...."
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.