Honolulu Star Bulletin: Nov 02, 2009 - The peasant pastor received a posthumous royal welcome of banners, processions and pageantry yesterday in a "Tribute to St. Damien" that brought hundreds of people to the Iolani Palace grounds. St. Damien De Veuster's endearing bond with Hawaiian alii was remembered as he was honored for his 16 years of compassionate service in Kalaupapa, Molokai, where leprosy patients, most of whom were Hawaiians, were isolated. He died of the disease in 1889 after 16 years in the remote settlement. His open-hearted charity to people of all cultures and faiths won applause by speakers who included a Belgian diplomat, local elected officials and interfaith religious leaders.
About 800 people gathered at the public celebration, which followed two weeks of religious observances centered on a relic of the man who was declared a saint last month. Members of Catholic organizations brought the koa box containing Damien's heel bone three blocks from Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. They bore it on a koa platform shaped like an outrigger canoe, symbolic of the priest's travels as a pastor on Oahu, Hawaii and Molokai. The parade was met at the palace gate by chanters Puakeala Mann and Ikaika Bantolina, who gave welcoming oli. The procession included feather-caped members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, escorted by the Royal Guard of the Hawaii National Guard. Other Hawaiian societies wearing their colors lined the driveway to the palace, which was draped in bunting, Hawaiian flags and a large banner with the Kalaukaua crest. "It was from the palace that Damien received royal support for his efforts," said Abigail Kawananakoa, who traces her lineage to the last monarchs. She recalled correspondence between Damien and Queen Kapiolani and then-Princess Liliuokalani, who "saw the grim sadness and devastation visited on the people there." Damien's letters detailed clothing and other supplies he sought for patients, and the alii responded, she said.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels and Hawaii Catholic Bishop Larry Silva joined Kawananakoa on the bandstand to watch the proceedings, which included hula, music and a parade of speakers. Jan Matthysen, Belgium's ambassador to the United States, told the crowd, "We Belgians cherish our connection to Hawaii" -- a connection rooted in Damien. "It was interesting to see how strongly Father Damien is still in the hearts of the people. It's wonderful to see," Matthysen said at the end of the festivities. "In every way, by every definition, St. Damien is a hero," said House Speaker Calvin Say. He "will be an illustrious, permanent humanitarian in the pages of history ... cherished as Hawaii's most benevolent patron of the sick and needy."
Scott Whiting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recalled Damien's writings that mentioned Mormon elder Jonathan Napela as his "yoke mate" in caring for the afflicted people. "He fostered a true spirit of community between faiths and cultures and did so in the most trying of circumstances," Whiting said. "In honoring one man, we also honor the thousands of people -- patients and workers -- who, despite disease and despair, reached out to one another in love and compassion," said the Rev. Charles Buck, Hawaii conference minister of the United Church of Christ. "In celebrating Father Damien, we celebrate the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, seen over and over in the last 150 years, by patients who triumphed over hardship and hopelessness ... all the unnamed saints of Kalau-papa who show us that even in horrible times, humans will do the right thing. "Let us walk in their footsteps by offering to each other the persistent hope and insistent encouragement to live fully and love courageously," Buck said.
The relic was escorted into the palace throne room by Kawananakoa, Silva and Danneels for a brief stop not open to the public. Mann chanted prayers as it was taken to the statues of Queen Liliuokalani and Damien on state Capitol grounds. Catholic relic-bearers led the dwindling procession back to the cathedral, where more than 1,000 people had started the day's festivities at a noon Mass celebrating All Saints' Day. The relic is now secured in a shrine inside the cathedral, where services to venerate the relic will be held daily through Friday.
By Mary Adamski
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