Thursday, August 21, 2008
Just a brief personal note today before I report the news and take you to Hawaii in search of a saint. As you all know, just over a year ago I lost my beloved Mom and brother Bill. It has turned out to be very true that God giveth and God taketh, for God took two very special people from our family last year, but He has given us five very wonderful new little people. August 19th marked the birth of my 13th great nephew (actually I have 8 great-nephews and 5 great nieces, the oldest of whom is 5!). In the past year, we welcomed Will (1), Emory (5 months), Brooke (4 months), Natalie (1 month) and Nathan (2 days). Number 14 is due in February! You cannot imagine the joy when 8 of those little ones were present this past July for a nephews wedding.


Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of State, sent a telegram Thursday in the name of Pope Benedict to Cardinal Antonio Mara Rouco Varela, archbishop of Madrid, expressing the Popes condolences for the victims of the airplane crash at the Madrid airport Wednesday afternoon. He said the Pope was deeply saddened upon learning the painful news of the serious airplane accident at the Barajas Airport that caused so many victims and wounded. The Pope, he wrote, offers prayers for the repose of the souls of the deceased, and he has asked Cardinal Rouco to extend his condolences to relatives of the deceased, as well as his spiritual closeness and great concern, and his hope for a prompt and total recovery for those who were wounded.

Spain on Thursday began three days of official mourning for the 153 victims of the fiery Spanair plane crash that took place at Madrids principal airport, consuming much of the plane and burning many passengers beyond recognition. There were 172 people aboard the aircraft, including crew and passengers, when it took off in early afternoon for the Canary Islands. Flags are flying at half staff in Spain, and King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia are scheduled to visit a makeshift morgue in the convention center to express their condolences. A chartered Spanair plane has flown friends and relatives of the victims from the Canary Islands to Madrid. Spanair has said that so far it does not know the cause of the crash. El Pais, a Spanish daily, reported that one of the two engines failed and may have caught fire during takeoff, while another paper, La Vanguardia, told of witnesses who saw the plane's left engine explode and catch fire before the aircraft went down.


Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, in an interview Wednesday with RAI, Italian state television, said he hoped Pope Benedict would come to China. Bishop Li Shan was appointed to head the Beijing diocese by the Patriotic Church Association, the state-controlled Catholic Church in China. We strongly hope that Benedict XVI will make a trip to China," he told RAI. "Relations with the Vatican are constantly improving. We can say that there are big developments." According to Bishop Li Shan, "there are between 8 and 10 million Catholics in China.. In Beijing there are 20 churches and three or four Masses are celebrated on Sunday, with around three thousand faithful attending."

Li Shan is well regarded by the Holy See and his installation last year in Beijing was approved by the Vatican. In fact, one of the decades-old disputes between the Vatican and China is over who has the right to appoint bishops. The Chinese insist they can name bishops and the Vatican states that, according to Church law, only the Holy Father can name bishops. The so-called Patriotic Church has in recent years ordained a number of bishops without the papal mandate. Rome, however, did approve Li-Shans appointment and this was seen as a positive development.

Another contentious point between the two are the diplomatic ties that exist between Taiwan and the Holy See. China says these ties must be severed before formal relations can be re-established between the Peoples Republic of China and the Vatican. Ties were broken off in 1951, two years after the communists came to power on the mainland.

On mainland China, Catholics loyal to Rome and the Pope form what is known as the underground Church, as opposed to the state-controlled Patriotic Church. Bishops, priests and faithful of the underground Church are often harassed and have even been arrested by Chinese officials. However, in his TV interview, Bishop Li, whose words were translated from Chinese into Italian, said that "the problem of clandestine Catholics does not exist." Last year Pope Benedict wrote a lengthy Letter to Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the Peoples Republic of China. Improving relations between the Vatican and China is a priority of his papacy.

Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi commented Thursday that the interview with Bishop Li Shan can be considered as one of the signs, on the part of the Chinese, of a response to the willingness shown by the Pope in his letter last year to normalize relations between the Holy See and China." He said diverse important problems remain to be solved but on the part of the Holy See there is the intention and the will to continue to go ahead with a loyal and constructive dialogue. Fr. Lombardi stated that "It is premature to talk about a papal visit to China. .. However Bishop Li-Shan's words show that all Chinese Catholics love and respect the Pope, recognize his authority, and would be happy to meet him, and this is certainly a very positive and encouraging thing.


As I was preparing my notes and photos for todays column about my recent trip to Hawaii, I thought how amazingly providential it was that only yesterday, during the weekly audience held at Castelgandolfo, Pope Benedict spoke of saints, encouraging all of us to seek out saints and blesseds as people to imitate. He encouraged us to read about the lives of saints and to see that holiness is not the privilege of a few, but the vocation of all the baptized. Through their intercession and inspiration, may you learn to love and serve the Lord more ardently in your daily lives. He also quoted French writer George Bernanos who wrote: Every life of a saint is like a new flower of springtime.

I encountered one of those flowers on my trip to Hawaii, a trip I took specifically to learn more about Blessed Father Damien de Veuster, a native of Belgium who spent 16 years on the island of Molokai caring for victims of leprosy. Leprosy at that time was a disease so dreaded that its victims became social outcasts and pariahs, exiled to live in loneliness and without dignity on this small Pacific island. As you will see, Father Damien did all he could to change that.

When I left Rome in July for some vacation time in California, Hawaii was the barest of glimmers in my minds eye. If it was on the horizon at all it was because of Linda Cacpal, a Honolulu woman who wrote me about one of the first blogs I ever posted and with whom I have shared a correspondence and talks about our faith and the Church over a lengthy period since then. Linda was in New York for Pope Benedicts visit and, though we were both in Yankee Stadium for the papal Mass, we never were able to meet personally.

On July 3, when the Vatican announced that a second miracle had been approved for and attributed to Blessed Damien (he was beatified by Pope John Paul in Belgium in 1995), Linda immediately emailed to tell me that the woman whose cure of terminal lung cancer had been recognized as miraculous by the Church was in her parish in Aiea, a Honolulu neighborhood overlooking Pearl Harbor. She told me about Audrey Toguchi, a parishioner for nearly three decades at St. Elizabeths, and she included copies of newspaper clippings about the story when it broke in the Hawaiian papers on July 4. That news and a little comment about it being her dream that I visit Hawaii stayed with me for several weeks.

After I had been in California for about 10 days, I emailed Linda, telling her I was seriously thinking of traveling to Hawaii and I asked if she thought it would be possible to meet Audrey. It would indeed, she replied. I researched hotels and airfares July 27th and 28th and was on a plane to Honolulu the morning of July 29! Along with these plans, Linda was arranging for a friend of hers who lived on Molokai to take me to this island where Blessed Damien labored for 13 years, helping the victims of leprosy. Hawaiians, by the way, especially people from Molokai, do not use the word leper to describe those suffering from Hansens disease (another name for leprosy): they call them patients.

Today I bring you to Honolulu on the island of Oahu, and to the Waikiki Beach area of the city where my hotel was located. I am posting just a smattering of the countless photos I took in Honolulu, and in coming days I will be posting photos of Molokai as I tell Damiens story. For now, Ill give you a brief glimpse into what it is like to visit Waikiki, the more profane side of my trip in search of a saint.

As I walked to the Church of St. Augustine near Waikiki Beach, where there are relics of Father Damien, I saw this sight and it seemed to sum up the Hawaii experience.

This photo shows one of the many extraordinary stained glass windows in St. Augustines Church.

Just a few feet away from the entrance to St. Augustines was the fabled Waikiki Beach, far more beautiful than I ever could have imagined it. As was all of Hawaii, for that matter.

A very typical sight, whether one is strolling near the beach or five blocks away

Honolulus most celebrated hotel, the Royal Hawaiian, opened in 1927 but is currently closed and under renovation. It is scheduled to reopen in January 2009. Noted for its pink color and low-slung design, it is nestled in the midst of high-rise hotels and apartments on Kalakaua Street

Two more striking views: First we see the celebrated Diamond Head, the 762-foot high volcano peak which got its name in the 19th century from English sailors who thought the shiny crystals they had found embedded in the mountain were diamonds..

This remarkable sculpture is found at one of the entrances to Waikiki Beach (Waikiki means sprouting waters).

Before I left the beach area, I took a photo of some of the tree trimmers as they work to maintain the beauty for which Waikiki is famous.

I could not resist a last glimpse as I left the beach, watching the surfers and looking at a cruise ship as she glided along the pristine waters.

Aloha! See you tomorrow!


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