Landmark Kailua-Kona church reopens eight years after earthquake - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Landmark Kailua-Kona church reopens eight years after earthquake

KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -

More than eight years after a 6.7 magnitude earthquake crippled the oldest Catholic church on Hawai'i Island, St. Michael's is finally re-opening it's doors.

The October 2006 earthquake caused such significant damage, a structural engineer told church officials it was too dangerous to leave standing -- but with the belief that a church is as strong as its people and armed with a lot of faith, St. Michael's was rebuilt in its iconic pink color.

"It is just an awesome joy that now we can come back home," exclaimed Father Konelio "Lio" Faletoi, St. Michael's pastor.

St. Michael's church bells are ringing once again -- and not just any bell, but the original.

"The bell is from 1852 and it was from the foundry in Paris, France," described Father Lio, as he likes to be called.

The new church also features the original stained glass windows.

St. Michael the Archangel Church was built 175 years ago by two missionaries, but it was too small, so it was redone in 1850.

"Father Marechal came and built the church that lasted all that time and got damaged in the earthquake that we had to take down, and his request was at his death that he be buried in his beloved church," said Father Lio, pointing to the headstone displayed prominently at the front of the sanctuary area.

Officials say it was important to make sure his final resting place was included in the new church, which can now accommodate up to 600 parishioners inside -- with room to expand outside.

"This is something new that was not in the old church, but it's something that is so central to all Christian faith," Father Lio said gesturing toward the new baptismal font. It was made with a rock from the Waimea quarry and it incorporates an element from the old church, a message in Hawaiian that was once on display above the altar, which translates to: "My children give me your hearts and I will show you the way."

Father Lio says faith has held the church together after the earthquake when worship was moved to a tent in the parking lot and then to Honokohau Industrial as construction began.

With its historic Ali'i Drive location, which lies in a flood zone, officials say building code challenges added to delays and rising costs. It took three years of construction to complete the $12 million elevated structure.

An estimated 1,500 people packed into the church Wednesday for a re-dedication ceremony. Church officials say the rebuilding process has re-invigorated their congregation and the community as a whole.

"Waiting for eight and a half years -- if it was two boards and a piece of slab on the floor, I would've been very happy but as it turned out it's beautiful," described parishioner Jack Ingram.

"I love the simplicity and the beauty and the purity of it. It's just going to mean so much and it's air conditioned, which is huge," laughed Judy Glickstein, who sings in the choir.

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