CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu, Hawaii: Oct. 31st. —Hula, chants and prayer will greet a heel bone of one of the Catholic Church's newest saints when it arrives in Honolulu this weekend. The celebrations are the culmination of weeks of ceremonies and celebrations marking the Vatican's canonization of Belgian-born Joseph de Veuster, or Father Damien, in Rome earlier this month.
Damien has long been a saint to the people of Hawaii for caring for exiled leprosy patients in the mid-1800s when no one else would, and then contracting and dying of the disfiguring disease himself. The priest's appeal spreads beyond the Catholic Church. Gov. Linda Lingle, who is Jewish, said Damien showed what it was like to do good without regard for personal gain. "I think he serves as an example and role model to everyone of what is a life of selfless service," Lingle said. "It means a lot that people recognize that he was a saint and he was here in our state. He lived among us and died among us."
Church officials have been carrying the heel bone relic around the state for the past few weeks. The bone reached Kalaupapa on Saturday, where it was welcomed by about a dozen patients still living on the remote peninsula. The state of Hawaii stopped forcibly exiling patients to Kalaupapa in 1969. On Sunday, church officials are due to take the relic to mass at the Honolulu cathedral where Damien was ordained in 1864. They'll then take the bone, carefully protected in a wooden box, to Iolani Palace where Hawaiian royalty who supported Damien's Kalaupapa efforts once lived. Chanters are due to deliver welcoming words and dancers are to perform hula. Representatives from different religious faiths, including the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Mormon church, are expected to speak.
Catholics say the relic - which will be permanently held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu - will connect worshippers to Damien. "It's sort of a reminder that Damien was a real person, that he's with us," said Patrick Downes, a Honolulu diocese spokesman. "It's akin to visiting someone's grave, or having a lock of hair, or some kind of reminder, a physical reminder, a connection to the actual person." The Rev. Lane Akiona, a member of the Sacred Hearts congregation that Damien belonged to, said the relic will push people to follow in his path. "It challenges us as members of his order to be as courageous as he was, even when it means that we will be alone," said Lane, who is the pastor of St. Augustine Church in Waikiki.
Damien's body is interred in a marble tomb in Belgium, where it was taken in 1936 after being exhumed from his original Kalaupapa grave. Another relic, Damien's right hand, was returned to Hawaii and reburied in Kalaupapa after he was beatified in 1995. Church leaders picked Damien's right hand to bring back because it's the one he used to bless, care for, and bandage the sick. The bone's tour stopped at many of the spots critical to Damien's time in Hawaii. It spent about a week circling the Big Island, where Damien lived for nine years before going to Kalaupapa. On Maui, the relic was taken to St. Anthony's Church in Wailuku, where Damien heard Kalaupapa's patients needed help and where he volunteered for the mission.
Damien arrived at Kalaupapa in 1873, the year the Hawaiian Kingdom began strictly enforcing its isolation policy and started exiling patients there in large numbers. The infrastructure to care for patients at the new leprosy settlement was virtually nonexistent. There were no homes to live in and no doctors to treat the sick. There was no dock, so ships delivering new groups of people for quarantine would dump patients in the water and force them to swim ashore. The patients, many profoundly ill, had to forage for meals and sleep out in the open. Doctors, when they did come, would refuse to touch the patients. In contrast, Damien built homes, planted trees, and bandaged patient wounds. He aggressively lobbied the Hawaiian government and the Catholic Church for more help, raising public awareness about their plight.
"What Father Damien found there was a place where people had lost their individual dignity and their sense of living in a decent society because of the way they were treated and how they were left there," Lingle said. "He really brought new life to the people. He brought them a sense of hope, of faith, of purpose." Damien was diagnosed with leprosy 12 years after he arrived. He died four years later, in 1889. By Audrey McAvoy Associated Press Writer
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