Wednesday, September 03, 2008

We will leave the island of Molokai today, with so very many things unsaid about Blessed Damien, about Mother Marianne Cope, about the 8,000 people who lived and died here, social outcasts merely because they were sick. But Father now Blessed and soon to be Saint Damien, gave them hope and courage and dignity and love, sharing their daily ordeals and eventually sharing their illness leprosy.

The Father Damien and Mother Marianne Commission was established in 2006 by Bishop Larry Silva of the diocese of Honolulu, which embraces all of the magnificent Hawaiian islands, to further the causes of canonization of Blessed Damien De Veuster and Mother Marianne Cope. Its other objectives are to renew commitment to serve the most needy and poor after the examples of Father Damien and Mother Marianne, to develop pilgrimages to the areas the two Blesseds served in the Hawaiian Islands, especially Kalaupapa, and to preserve a Catholic presence in Kalaupapa after the current patients are no longer present. Bishop Silva, with whom I spoke in Honolulu and whose reflections I will bring you on another day, chairs that commission.

In the book the commission is preparing for use as a pilgrimage guide to the places associated with Damien and Marianne, they write about Damiens message of hope and dignity, saying he enunciated it as clearly in his actions as he did in his words:

Society may have banished you, but God has not banished you. We are still all Gods children, with all the infinite dignity that goes with that, and that dignity cannot be taken away with a disease, or a doctor declaring you a leper, or a Board of Health clerk giving you a paper that says off to Molokai with you. We are still brothers and sisters to each other. We can still take care of each other. We can still lead as normal a life as possible. We are all dying some more rapidly than others and some more gruesomely than others, but when you die there is a better life waiting. In heaven, no one is a leper.

Today we end our visit to Molokai we say aloha (which means both hello and farewell) to Kalaupapa, but our journey is not over. I will bring you to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, celebrating its 165th anniversary this year, where Damien was ordained a priest. I will also talk to Bishop Silva about Hawaiis plans for the canonization.

Before we say aloha, there are a few more photos I want to bring you of Molokai photos of the current settlement where patients live, where guests visit, and where the staff from the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior live and work. It is a small, caring and very tight-knit community, a family born of hardships that could serve as models for all of us.

I met one of those people at the end of our tour, Carol Frank, a nursing supervisor from the Hawaii State Department of Health at the Kalaupapa Nursing Facility. Because there was no room on the early afternoon plane from Kalaupapa to Molokai Topside, Maria Sullivan and I had to wait for the 5:15 flight. Fortuitously we ran into Carol as we arrived at the airport about 1:30, hoping for seats on the early flight, and she accompanied us back to the settlement for a brief visit. I was thus able to stop for a few moments at some of the sites that our guide Keanini had shown us in a more cursory fashion in the morning. The principal reason we remained on the bus at that time was so as not to disturb the residents. We were also asked not to take photos of the patients. We had freer rein to visit with Carol.

She had only been at Kalaupapa about 11 months and said she was loving every minute of her experience. Her eyes did turn sad for a moment, however, and she told us they had lost a patient that morning, an older woman she had come to know and felt close to.

And so we take our leave

This first picture welcomes us to Kalaupapa - yes, even Kalaupapa has a Lions Club and this club and others work to build structures, provide road signs and bring the community what it needs and they can provide. In 1956 members placed a sign at the airport that reads Love never faileth.

The following photos show Kalaupapa Pier, where the settlers landed when the waters off Kalawao became too dangerous. Today the pier and its pristine waters welcome the occasional small private boat but the really Big Day on Kalaupapa is Barge Day a day in July when the once a year barge arrives with goods of all kinds. It is truly Christmas in July when the barge arrives and I was sorry to have missed this great annual event by a mere two weeks!

The entire Kalaupapa community is at the pier for a day-long celebration when the barge arrives. Residents help off-load the merchandise which can include cars, electronics, appliances, headstones for graves, material for making curtains or upholstering furniture, furniture, food for the general store, motorboats, cases of beer, hospital supplies and other bulk items. The barge even brings gasoline for the once-a-year fillerup at the one gas station on the peninsula. There are not that many vehicles in Kalaupapa and most owners seem to know exactly how much gasoline they will need during the year. The barge is literally a floating warehouse that pulls up to the Kalaupapa Pier once a year.

This is the Bishop Home. According to the pilgrimage book being written by Bishop Silvas Damien Commission, the original home was built in 1888 by Charles Reed Bishop, a man who had taken pity on the leprous women and girls being dumped on the shores to find their own way and offered to finance a home if a proper head could be found. He offered $5,000 to erect a house or home for the women and girls in Kalaupapa. The Bishop Home actually consisted of several cottages and buildings built around well-cared for grounds and administered by the Sister of St. Francis, the order of Mother Marianne. The house was rebuilt in 1932 and renovated in 2006. It sits just yards away from the gravesite of Blessed Marianne (which you saw in an earlier column).

This building no longer in use, thank the Lord is where patients met their friends or family members when they came for the rare visit. A table-to-ceiling barrier separated the patients and visitors so that they could talk but not touch each other. There were separate doors at separate ends of the building one for guests, the other for patients.

This is a view from one of the guest cottages.

The U.S. Post Office..

A mosaic of Fr. Damien outside the Kalaupapa community center.

A poster of Pope John Paul and Damien in the community center

Aloha Kalaupapa! Mahalo thank you! Maria! I truly hope you heard my interview with Maria Sullivan this past weekend on Vatican Insider. If not, you will find it in the archived shows at:

  News Home
  Joan's Rome
  A Catholic Journalist
in London
  Inside EWTN
  Power & Witness
  Journeys home by Marcus Grodi
  Seen & Unseen
  Vatican Insider Podcast
  Joan's Rome:Video