Friday, August 29, 2008

Nothing was more important than prayer for Sacred Hearts priest Damien DeVeuster. He would pray anywhere and did so in the strangest of places during his thirteen years on Kalaupapa, Molokai. However, a church was very important to Blessed Damien and he wanted it to be a place of special refuge for his people. Kalaupapas leprosy patients suffered so many indignities as they bore their illness that Fr. Damien did not want them to suffer in the Lords house.

As Maria and I and our small group entered Kalawao, we saw a strikingly beautiful place, so imbued with peace and tranquility that the only sounds we heard were the songs of birds, the wind as it swept through the banyan trees and the surf as it crashed against the rocky shores. It seemed hard to believe that once this was the site of such pain and suffering.

This is the road that brought us to Kalawao.

And this is the church of St. Philomena that greeted us as we set foot on Damien land.

and this is the road as it continues, past the church, to the shores of Kalawao

This was quite different from the sights that greeted the leprosy patients as ships brought them to Kalaupapa the rock that brought fear to their hearts as it mean the end of the line

and the windswept, rugged shores of the peninsula.

As the religious of the Sacred Hearts tell us in their booklet about their brother: Damien, Servant of God, Servant of Humanity:

On May 10, 1873 Bishop Maigret accompanied Damien to the Kalaupapa settlement. The Bishop proudly presented the new pastor to the Catholic residents. The joy of their welcome and Damiens excitement upon arriving at Molokai dimmed the fact that he carried with him little more than his breviary.

Sacred Hearts Religious had previously built a tiny chapel in Kalawao and dedicated it to St. Philomena (the small annex to the main church in the photo). There was no residence for the priest so Damien spent the first weeks of his stay under the branches of a pandanus tree whose ariel roots also served as a home for rodents and centipedes, roaches and ants.

A word here about Bishop Louis Dsir Maigret, also a religious of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Born in France, he was ordained a priest on September 23, 1828 at age 24. As part of his missionary work, he went to the Kingdom of Hawaii to minister to native Hawaiian Catholics. When the apostolic vicar of Oriental Oceania, another Sacred Hearts priest, was lost at sea, Father Maigret, age 42, was appointed by Rome as the first apostolic vicar of the apostolic vicariate of the Sandwich Islands. That is now the Diocese of Honolulu. He built Honolulus Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace where Damien DeVeuster was ordained a priest on May 21, 1864.

The church we see today was added to the original chapel in 1872 when Damien saw that the growing congregation needed more space. Builders even added a steeple to the church and this became a landmark in Kalaupapa. Further renovations, repairs and enlargements took place in 1888 and 1889. Mass is celebrated here only on special occasions. Here you see the main altar

and here is a smaller altar on the right side of the church, an altar built by Fr. Damien.

This little statue of Fr. Damien is always covered by leis, be they made of fresh or artificial flowers.

This next photo tells a fascinating story. Maria Sullivan gave me a draft of a book she and others are writing entitled Father Damien and Mother Marianne Pilgrimage Guide. In the chapter dedicated to Pilgrimage Sites at Kalawao, we read:

Tradition states that many of the patients would not enter the church during Mass. Instead they preferred to remain outside and watch the services through the windows. Mucus accumulated in their throats and nasal passages, forcing them to spit frequently. They had no control over the saliva running from their mouth. Others were partially paralyzed and did not want to disturb Mass by going outside to spit. So Damien had holes put in the floors for the patients. He gave each an Ape leaf that they rolled into a funnel and placed in the hole. They were able to spit in the leaf. He later went under the church to clean the spittle that clogged the holes.

After visiting the church, we went outside to the St. Philomena cemetery to visit Father Damiens tomb. In 1936 Damiens body was exhumed and sent to Belgium where he was re-buried in Louvain. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in May of 1995 in Belgium. Only his right hand today is buried at Kalawao, even though Damien asked to be buried forever among his people.

Here are some of the other graves in that cemetery, including priests who ministered to Kalaupapas lepers.

Of this cemetery, Fr. Damien wrote to his priest-brother: The cemetery, church and presbytery form one enclosure; thus, at nighttime I am the sole keeper of the garden of the dead, where my spiritual children lie at rest.

Several days ago I posted a photo of the gravesite of Blessed Mother Marianne Cope, a Franciscan who was with Damien when he died and nursed the sick of Kalaupapa for 35 years after his death. She died in 1918. I neglected to tell you that her body too was exhumed in 2005 - and my friend Maria Sullivan was there. Her body was brought to her orders motherhouse in Syracuse, New York. She was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peters Basilica on May 14, 2005. She is often called Mother Marianne of Kalaupapa.

One final and rather extraordinary - note to end todays column.

Shortly after my return to Rome, Maria Sullivan (who knew I was born near Chicago) sent me an email. She said she had just read the guest book of St. Joseph Church, built by Fr. Damien, near where she lives: A Joan Lewis of Chicago was at St. Joseph Church (topside Molokai) while you were at St. Philomena Church in Kalawao on Thursday July 31. There is some symmetry there!


Maria Sullivan has been our guide for these many days as we visit the island of Molokai, in particular the peninsula of Kalaupapa and Blessed Damiens leper colony. You can hear her story firsthand because my interview with her, at the miniscule International Airport of Kalaupapa airs this weekend on Vatican Insider.

Remember, if you dont have EWTN radio locally or do not receive it via Sirius satellite, you may listen via your computer.

Go to www.ewtn.com, click on RADIO, then click LISTEN LIVE. Tune in on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. (ET) or Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. (ET).

This is a must-not-miss interview!

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God bless! Have a wonderful weekend and a very special Labor Day. This column returns Tuesday, September 2.

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