THE STORY OF A PORTRAIT PAINTER AND TWO POPES - HAWAII: THE STORY OF A TEACHER AND HER FRIEND DAMIEN
Friday, August 22, 2008
I leave you this weekend with portraits of two special people who have been given special gifts. One, Igor Babailov, was born with an amazing artistic talent which he has used it to the fullest in his oil portraits of Popes, presidents, prime ministers, heads of corporations, sports figures, and more. The second person is Audrey Toguchi, the retired teacher from Honolulu whose gift from the Lord was the miraculous healing of a devastating and terminal lung cancer. I met Audrey last month in Honolulu and tell her story on these pages today.

THE STORY OF A PORTRAIT PAINTER AND TWO POPES

I tell Igors fascinating story - his art, his journey to America, how he defines himself as an artist, the time he spent with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI this weekend on my radio show, Vatican Insider. As you know, the shows airs on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. (ET) and again on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. (ET). If you do not get EWTN on a local station or on satellite radio, you can listen via computer: Go to www.ewtn.com, click RADIO, click LISTEN LIVE and do so at the above times.

On radio one must try to paint pictures with words. But when you have portraits as beautiful as those done by Igor, words can fail. So today I bring you photos of just a few of his recent paintings he has done over 700 portraits! The first one shows Igor in July 2006 showing Pope Benedict the sketch he had done of the pontiff during the weekly general audience when Igor was permitted to sit by himself, yet fairly close to Benedict. For some unknown reason, the photos of the two paintings that are rectangular did not show the bottom half of the painting: the one of Pope John Paul and the magnificent one of the sculpture of the Risen Christ. They are on Igor's website - www.babailov.com

Here you see Igor as he paints the Holy Fathers portrait, which he has entitled The Way, The Truth and The Life. It was unveiled for the Pope at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. on his 81st birthday. He liked it so much that he brought it back to Rome with him on the plane even though I am sure Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the nuncio to the United States, would have preferred to keep it at the nunciature. The Pope personally thanked Igor, along with his wife Mary, last week at Castelgandolfo!

This is Igors portrait of John Paul II, entitled Believe. It hangs today in the St. Thomas Villanova parish hall in Castelgandolfo.

Mary and Igor Babailov at an audience with Pope John Paul.

A recent painting of a sculpture called VITA (Life) the Risen Christ

HAWAII: THE STORY OF A TEACHER AND HER FRIEND DAMIEN

As I wrote yesterday, on July 3 the Vatican announced that a Hawaiian womans cure from terminal lung cancer was indeed considered miraculous and could be attributed to the intercession of Blessed Damien DeVeuster, a Sacred Hearts priest from Belgium who spent 10 years on the Hawaiian island of Oahu as a missionary before being sent to neighboring Molokai to take care of patients with leprosy. He cared for them for 13 years until his death in 1889 at the age of 40.

When the news was announced by Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, the faith community at St. Elizabeths Church in Aiea, Honolulu, rejoiced because the woman cured of cancer, Audrey Toguchi, was one of their very own parishioners. Another parishioner, my friend Linda, wrote me almost immediately after the news was published. She told me that Audrey is very devoted to Fr. Damien and has been all her life. She sees him as one who dedicated his whole life in a very sacrificial way to the Lord. It was very natural for her to pray to Damien when her cancer was diagnosed and its gravity made clear. Shes a happy person, of course, not just because of her healing but because it gives her the chance to tell people about Gods loving kindness and mercy through Blessed Damien. And, of course, shes our parishioner at St. Elizabeth for at least 25-30 years!

Linda gave me Audreys contact information and I called her almost the moment I got off the plane on Tuesday, July 29th. We agreed to meet at my hotel the following morning at 10. In the meantime I had to learn as much about her life and background, her health and her cure as I could, so I spent part of my first afternoon in magnificent Honolulu doing research. Over my first dinner in this beautiful city I read pages and pages of notes, and started to compose what I hoped would be a good radio interview. I wrote until I almost fell asleep in my chair, because by the time I went to bed I had been up for close to 24 hours, given the early hour of my flight to L.A: and Honolulu, and the three-hour time difference between the islands and the mainland.

A cradle Catholic and native of Honolulu, Audrey Toguchi retired in 1995 after 44 years as a teacher in public schools in Hawaii. She has been married to her husband Yukio for 50 years and they have raised two sons, Eric and Ivan. Yukio is not Catholic but enormously respects his wifes faith. The boys were raised in the Catholic Church. Audrey said she tried to teach her boys what she had been taught as a child and what she learned also from Damien: I had always been taught to turn to God in prayer in difficult moments. I taught our boys the same thing. If I put everything in Gods hands, things will be OK. After all, God made us and He knows us, and knows how to help us.

I felt truly honored Wednesday to be in the presence of such a lovely lady, a faith-filled, smiling, warm Catholic whom the Lord chose to greatly favor. After only a few minutes in her calm, joyful presence, I felt as if I had known her for a much longer time. Before I began the interview, I asked if I could take a few photos. I include three photos in this column today: one of Audrey on my balcony, another taken in the hotel lobby and a third with her husband Yukio, who very obviously adores his wife!

Audrey, who turned 80 in June, told me that her cure was known to only a very few people before 2008 when Bishop Silva announced on April 29, that she had been cured of an aggressive form of lung cancer. The Vatican publicly announced on July 3 that the theological commission of the Vaticans Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognized this cure as being miraculous, and approved that the miracle be attributed to Blessed Damien of Molokai.

How did Fr. Damien, who has been a hero to her for so many years, come into her life? Well, she said, all Hawaiian school children - but most especially those at Catholic schools - learn at an early age of Fr. Damien Blessed Damien since 1995. She told me that in 1936, when she was only 8-years old, she and her fellow Catholic students at St. Augustine grade school in Waikiki were brought by the nuns to a pier to say farewell to Fr. Damien whose remains were being brought back to his native Belgium on a ship. We all knew him, she said, as the holy man from Kalaupapa. She said she almost grew up with Fr. Damien.

Kalaupapa, which I would visit the following day, is a small peninsula on the northern side of the island of Molokaii. It was here in the 19th and 20th centuries that all the victims of leprosy were condemned to live the rest of their days on earth. It was here that Damien cared for the people whom he grew to love so much, and here he died. It is here that 25 patients still live today as I write these words.

Kalaupapa is a place that Audrey, her family and friends, have visited many times in the years since Audrey and her fellow classmates bid Damien farewell.

One of those times was in the fall of 1998.

Three years earlier, Audrey retired after 44 years of teaching. A year later, in 1996 after suffering a fall, her husband saw a small lump on her left backside, and what she and her husband thought was a hematoma from the fall, just kept growing. Finally, in December 1997, Audrey consulted Dr. Walter Chang. The news was not good and she had a fist-sized lump removed in January 1998. Because she had prayed to Fr. Damien when she had a kidney removed 20 years earlier, Audrey turned once again to the priest she so admired, praying for his intercession. Her treatment for an aggressive and very rare form of cancer of the fat tissues known as pleomorphic liposarcoma, included radiation.

Scans performed in September 1998 showed three new lumps in one of her lungs in September 1998. Dr. Changs prognosis - and that of other doctors: Audrey had six months to live. Audrey told me, Dr. Chang simply had no good news to give me. It seemed like he was telling me someone elses story. He did suggest that I might want to try chemotherapy. However, I looked him right in the eye and said: I will do what I always do in times of trouble. I will turn to God and I will ask Blessed Damien to intercede for me. She said she told Dr. Chang that she and her husband Yukio would make a pilgrimage to Kalaupapa and to Fr. Damiens grave at Walawao, next to St. Philomenas Church.

And they did just that, traveled to Kalaupapa in the fall of 1998.

Just one month later, when Audrey went to see Dr. Chang, x-rays were taken and to the astonishment of Audrey and the doctor - there were indications that the lung tumors had started to shrink. Audrey said that Dr. Chang, in disbelief because he is not really a religious believer asked me if I had seen other doctors, taken medicine or herbs I had not told him about, or had radiation or chemotherapy that I had not told him about. And I told him, No, all I did was pray. And I went to Kalaupapa to talk to Fr. Damien, as I said I would. The months passed, more scans were performed, and by August 1999, there were no signs at all of cancer.

As Audrey tells her story, it is obvious that the other hero in her life is Dr, Chang. I did not get to interview him on this trip to Honolulu, but it was Dr. Chang who told Audrey he wanted to publish her story in a medical journal. It was Dr. Chang who urged Audrey to tell her story to the Vatican, saying he knew that Catholics believed in miracles. Audrey said, in fact, perhaps Dr. Chang now believes in miracles because he told me he thinks mine is the only case he has ever read of where the pleomorphic liposarcoma spontaneously regressed.

Dr. Chang did write about Audreys cure and the Vatican did get the file on Audrey in 2003. After five years of study, the Church issued its findings this past July.

Audrey and Yukio Toguchi and their two sons, Dr. Walter Chang, Bishop Larry Silva and thousands of Hawaiians now await the date of Blessed Damiens canonization. It is believed that the ceremony will take place in 2009 in Rome, and that would be a fitting year for two reasons: 2009 marks the 120th anniversary of Blessed Damiens death and the 50th anniversary of Hawaiis statehood.

There is more Id like to tell you about this remarkable, faith-filled woman with the beautiful smile, but that will be for another day, as we continue our journey to Hawaii, in search of a saint.

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Have a lovely weekend. Pay a compliment to someone who doesnt expect it. Smile at everyone you meet. Do a favor for someone who may not be your favorite person on earth and smile doing it. Then tell me about your weekend.

joansrome@ewtn.com




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