It was a little over a decade ago that Audrey Toguchi, a retired Hawaiian schoolteacher, first visited Father Damien’s grave on the island of Molokai. Passing through the gate in a low cobblestone wall, where stray cats sometimes rested in the shade of St. Philomena Church, Mrs. Toguchi and her two sisters entered the graveyard. A few palm trees twisted towards the sky; beyond those stretched the open sea. Mrs. Toguchi walked to the side of the church and came to the grave, a tall marble monument festooned with rosaries and leis. She began to silently pray. Please, Father Damien. Put in a good word for me.
She had not traveled far. As an airplane climbs above Honolulu, the island of Molokai is often visible as a small blue mass, though dim and distant enough to waver like a mirage. Approached from the north, Molokai is a fortress: a vast wall of seacliffs rises above the surf, towering thousands of feet high and stretching for miles from end to end. Near the midpoint of that wall there juts from the base, suddenly and improbably, a low, level shelf of land that the early Hawaiians called Kalaupapa (“flat leaf”). That peninsula has a peculiar history. When, in the mid 19th century, leprosy grew rampant in the Hawaiian islands and panicked public health officials sought a suitable place to isolate the ill, they turned to the small tongue of land protruding from the north face of Molokai. Bound by the sea on all sides and walled off from the rest of the island by the tall cliffs to the rear, Kalaupapa was a natural prison. Continue here....
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