Hawaii Catholics celebrate Father Damien's canonization

Elizabeth Lum
Elizabeth Lum
Bernard Ho
Bernard Ho
Jessica Agustin
Jessica Agustin
Diana Leuta
Diana Leuta

By Leland Kim bio | email

PAUOA VALLEY (KHNL) - A historic moment for Hawaii gets international attention. Blessed Damien of Moloka'i, who helped those afflicted with leprosy in Kalaupapa in the 1800s, will be canonized Sunday morning in Rome, Italy, making him a saint.

And locally, many Catholics in Hawaii are taking part in this important occasion. This is one of the most significant moments for Catholics in Hawaii. Many gathered at the Blessed Sacrament Church, and they're following Father Damien's example.

It's that unmistakable sound of a weekend barbecue, and these folks are going all out.

"We got barbecued steak, and this is Samoan sausage," said Diana Leuta, who was helping with the cooking.

They also have Kalua pig, and chicken with long rice.

Good food and good music put a big smile on these churchgoers' faces. They're here for a charity event at Blessed Sacrament Church in Pauoa Valley.

"Words cannot express it," said Leuta. "It's so wonderful."

But this is more than a fundraiser. It's a major event honoring Father Damien.

He was a Catholic priest who arrived in Hawaii in the mid 1800s. He went to a settlement colony of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka'i to help those afflicted with leprosy.

"He was a man who gave his life to serve god and his people," said Elizabeth Lum, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church. "He wasn't thinking about himself; he was thinking about people."

He is also credited with performing two miracles: one in France, and another right here in Hawaii. Audrey Toguchi had terminal cancer. She says after she prayed at Father Damien's gravesite, her cancer completely disappeared.

"I just love Father Damien and what he did," said Jessica Agustin, a Catholic.

That's why the Vatican elevated him to sainthood, canonizing him this weekend.

"And for Hawaii, it's special because in all of our lifetime we've never had a saint from Hawaii," said Bernard Ho, president of Damien Memorial School.

These church members are following Father Damien's example. All the proceeds from the sale of food and clothing - every last penny - will be donated to the needy on Moloka'i.

And this message of charity lives in the hearts of even the youngest church members.

"No matter what kind of people they are, it shows me that you have to help others when they're in need because we're all brothers and sisters," said Agustin, who is 17-years-old. "We're all like family, and it makes me excited to help people and that's what inspired me to do."

Continuing to inspire here in Hawaii and throughout the world more than a century after his passing.

Around Oahu, the canonization of Father Damien has Hawaii's political leaders talking about the impact this one man had on the islands and the world.

"I felt very emotional this whole lead up to Father Damien's canonization because of the 10 years that I lived on Moloka'i," said Gov. Linda Lingle, R-Hawaii. "I spent quite a fair amount of time on Kalaupapa and for anyone who's never been there, you can't appreciate how almost other-wordly it fells down there."

Meanwhile, Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann issued a statement saying, "Father Damien has long stood as a symbol of courage, sacrifice, and devotion to the people of the Hawaiian islands. The people of Hawaii join our brothers and sisters around the world in prayer and in celebrating the life and sainthood of a remarkable man."

Father Damien's canonization will take place in Rome beginning at ten Saturday night, Hawaii time. There's a twelve hour difference, so it'll be ten in the morning Sunday in Italy.