Kalaupapa residents chosen to see Fr. Damien become a saint

Ivy Kahilihiwa
Ivy Kahilihiwa
Boogie Kahilihiwa
Boogie Kahilihiwa

By Duncan Armstrong

KAKAAKO (KHNL) - It's a time in Hawaii's past that has gone down in history. On Sunday, it was announced that a select group of Hansen's disease patients would make the trip to Rome to see Father Damien elevated to sainthood.

In five months, history will be made in Rome as Father Damien becomes a saint, the historic event Hawaii has been waiting for, for over 100 years.

And for the tiny community of Kalaupapa, it'll be the journey of a lifetime.

"My name is Ivy Kahilihiwa and I've been in Kalaupapa for almost 56 years. I went to Kalaupapa in 1953."

Now, Kahilihiwa is preparing for another journey, one that will take her and seven of her friends more than 8,000 miles to St. Peters Square in Rome to witness Blessed Father Damien become a saint.

"I am proud of this what's going on. It's a big deal for me. It's special for us to go to Belgium and Rome where we are going to celebrate the Blessed Damien," said Kahilihiwa.

To help celebrate and share the experience of the canonization of Father Damien, Kahilihiwa will bring along her husband Boogie who also has Hansen's disease.

"It didn't hit me at the time you know, how fortunate it would be. Right now as it builds up, as we are getting closer to the time, I am getting more excited," he said.

Father Damien arrived in Hawaii in 1864, treating leprosy patients for 12 years before dying of the disease at age 49. Its been a long and difficult journey for Kahilihiwa and others with Hansen's disease, not only battling the effects of the illness, but also the stigma that comes with it.

"Whether it's Hansen's disease or leprocy, it they call me leper. I am fine with it it doesn't bother me," she said.

But now, her illness gives her a chance to be a part of a historical event for a Hawaii hero. Although, she, her husband, and the rest of the Hansen's disease patients all agree, Father Damien would wonder what all the fuss is about.

"He was a man of humility and was a man who cared for his people not only the Hawaiians," said Kahilihiwa.

This big trip also has big costs, and to help the patients and care givers head to Rome, there will be a fundraiser on July 18th at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

KHNL will be at St. Peters Square in Rome on October 11th to bring you complete coverage of this historic event.