Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday, August 25 2008

I had a truly wonderful serendipitous encounter this morning, a great story to tell though I will give you just a brief outline today, with the rest of the story and some photos tomorrow. In mid-morning I took a taxi from St. Peters Square for the ten-minute ride to the American Express Office at Piazza di Spagna where I pay my account each month. I began doing this when the mail was so poor that a payment by check never arrived in time and Amex began adding late fees.

Few tourists were there and the transaction took just minutes. I normally take a bus back home, walking to the nearby Via del Tritone. Today I varied my route from the Spanish Steps to Via del Tritone and saw a lovely church I did not recognize, SantAndrea delle Fratte. I went inside and was awestruck by its loveliness realizing that I did indeed know this church but that it had been many years since I had last darkened its doors. My loss!

Mass had just started so I stayed, noting that this is one of five daily Masses in this church throughout the morning. Afterwards I visited at length the 10 side altars, with descriptions in both Italian and English, the main altar, two special angels and the truly lovely adjacent cloister. I saw that the priest who had said Mass was also hearing confessions, and so I got in line. When it would have been my turn, he left the confessional but asked me if I could stay a few minutes if I wanted to go to confession. He told he had to pray noon office, handed me a prayer book, opened it to the correct page and, with a welcoming smile, invited me to join the two nuns, two priests and a handful of what seemed to be regular parishioners. With delight I stayed for the noon prayer and then went to confession. By then the church was closing for the afternoon period that all Roman churches close, so I exited through the cloister door to Via SantAndrea delle Frate, having spent almost 90 minutes in this lovely church.

Why is SantAndrea so lovely and why is it so special? Youll have to come back tomorrow when I tell you the rest of the wonderful story about this church/shrine, accompanied by some photos. I had my purse-size digital camera with me today but had failed to check the battery this morning and it was totally dead. I have become so accustomed to having my larger camera with me and checking the battery, memory card, etc that I failed to do the same with the smaller camera. But that is fine when God gives you a lemon, you make lemonade. Ill go back tomorrow for both Mass and photos.


On Thursday, July 31, I had an appointment to spend the day on the small island of Molokai (38 miles long by 17 wide) with Maria Sullivan, a friend of my friend Linda whom you met in my previous columns. I had been in email contact with Maria and her terrific assistant Judy before I left California for Hawaii. Once I was in Honolulu, however, we spoke on the phone in order to complete my arrangements to visit the island of Blessed Father Damien.

I had a 5:30 a.m. flight on Island Air from Honolulu to Molokai to the part of the island known as topside and another flight from topside to the peninsula of Kalaupapa where Fr. Damien, as you know, cared for leprosy patients. Maria and Judy and I met at the Molokai airport at 5:55 a.m. where they gave me tons of information both written and oral - about what I would see and hear, etc. before Maria and I would leave on our 7 a.m. flight to Kalaupapa.. We talked at length over a very welcome cup of Hawaiian Molokai'i coffee. In fact I bought a nunber of packages to bring back to the mainland as gifts.

I was very amused as we got ready to leave for Kalaupapa on the nine-passenger Pacific Wings plane - security was nothing like I had experienced in San Diego, Los Angeles and Honolulu, of course, but they did insist on knowing our weight and we had to step on a scale. Of course we had no luggage - just purses, our printed information, picnic lunches and my digital camera and a video-cam. I must tell you thats the only way to travel either no luggage or just a carry-on, which is all I brought from the mainland!

This first photo was taken by a retired American Airline pilot and friend of mine, Tony Vallillo, about whom I have written in this column. What is so astonishing is that this morning the very day I intended to write this column about the trip to Molokai is when I received Tonys missive with attached photo a photo he took from the cockpit of a plane on a trip to this island! He must read my column! What is even more wonderful is that you can actually see the peninsula of Kalaupapa about which I will be talking today and in coming days. You can see how it is jutting out from Topside.

Here is what Tony wrote: I made a few flights out there a few years ago, from Chicago. At that time I looked into the history of Molokai, and the Leper Colony of Father Damien. Here is a picture I took from the cockpit on the way out of Honolulu that shows the peninsula. There is a small airport on the peninsula, I imagine the one you flew into. I'm sure that beats the old way of getting there - being dumped from a ship by terrified sailors unwilling to even go all the way to the dock! Notice the large cliffs to the right - those prevented anyone from leaving the colony and wandering over to the rest of the island.

The next photo shows me inside the small Pacific Wings plane. Our pilot not only flew us to Kalaupapa, he took luggage off, put new luggage on, and checked in the new passengers at Kalaupapa for their trip Topside.

These two photos show the pali the immense 2,000 foot high cliffs on Molokais northern shore - and the peninsula of Kalaupapa which you see under the planes wing. In almost the exact center of this photo, on the shores of the peninsula, even though it is barely visible, you can see the buildings and settlement where Father Damien lived and worked and where people live still today. The pali or cliffs are, by the way, the tallest sea cliffs in the world, and there are 3,000 feet under water as well!

Maria and I landed at Kalaupapa after our eight-minute flight. Here you see the airport about the size of a two-car garage - and Maria, whose wonderful story you will hear soon on Vatican Insider and myself, as we wait for the bus that will take us to the settlement. Very briefly, Maria, who lives Topside in Kawela, had a wonderful career in law in Seattle, including having been an assistant attorney general. In the 1980s, she began to vacation in Hawaii and thought that perhaps one day she would like to retire on the islands. A life-threatening illness caused her to make that decision earlier than she expected. It was a life-changing decision that brought her to Molokai. More to come....

To reach Kalaupapa from Topside (and here you see a close-up of the top of the pali, the cliffs, there are three modes of transportation. One is the plane. A second is a 90-minute mule ride down 26 switchbacks (it starts at the point in this photo) over 3.8 miles and the third is a 3-hour (one way) walk down the steep cliffs. However you descend, the return route is the same way plane, mule or on foot.. Because of time constraints I took the plane but next time Id love to go by mule. On our tour we would be joined by about a dozen or more people who did come down by mule.

Maria and I were met at the airport by a very old school bus driven by Gloria Marks, the head of Damien Tours who was our guide for part of the morning. She and her husband have been patients at Kalaupapa since 1966. They, and the other 23 patients who live here, have chosen to remain at Kalaupapa because, even though leprosy is curable and the patients can and do leave for family visits and travel (most popular destination is Las Vegas!), they were forced years ago to come here and have made lasting friendships and created family of their own. Ill say a lot more about this in coming columns.

As we drove towards the settlement and the area where we would meet the mule team, we passed a number of cemeteries on the peninsula. Over the years, more than 8,000 victims of leprosy were forced to live in Kalaupapa: many were buried and have headstones while a very large number were buried underground, without markers, without any indication that they ever, in fact, had lived and died here.

These three photos show Maria and I at the edge of the settlement, where we waited for the mule riders to come down the pali.

As I gazed at the indescribably beautiful and pristine waters with so many shades of blue from Gods palette - and at the steep, challenging, powerful cliffs, I could only think: this is what the earth must have been like the day of creation.

I delighted in the beauty of this small, once so-very-sad peninsula and thought how wonderful it was that the Lord gave the gift of beauty to those who seemingly had nothing else in their life. They did not have health. They did not have riches. They did not have their families and loved ones. They only had each other and then Father Damien and, after him, Mother Marianne Cope. These two people, said Maria, were like beautiful bookends to the same story.


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