Strong turnout for Father Damien pilgrimage

Betty Ontai
Betty Ontai
Laurie LaGrange
Laurie LaGrange

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The demand to see Kalaupapa's Father Damien become a saint is so overwhelming, Seawind Tours and Travel, the tour company putting together the pilgrimage, says its first of three tours sold out in 24 hours.

One family taking the tour says the trip to Rome is somewhat of a miracle in itself.

As the Vatican prepares to officially declare Father Damien a saint, seeing a piece of Hawaii history unfold before their own eyes is an event folks like Betty Ontai can hardly wait to see.

"It's a very uplifting feeling to know that we're going to experience something that people have waited for a lifetime," said Ontai.

For Ontai's loved ones, the trip is a personal journey of thanks. Her daughter, Laurie LaGrange of Hawaii Kai, was stricken with breast cancer a year ago.

"My oncologist tells me my case is unusual. That's the term he uses because unfortunately, it had spread to my liver. At first, they thought there were a couple tumors, but one kind of disappeared," said LaGrange.

Just as Audrey Toguchi's terminal cancer disappeared after praying to the 18th century belgian priest, who ministered to leprosy patients. Like Toguchi, LaGrange relied on faith.

"It's been a long journey. Through a lot of prayer, through people like father damien, I've come through it okay. I'm in remission," she said.

For that reason, LaGrange says a pilgrimage to Rome to see Hawaii's first saint is like coming full circle.

"For me, it's not only experiencing a once in a lifetime journey but it's also giving thanks to someone who helped me in my life," she said.

Father Damien will be canonized a saint on October 11th.