I recently was invited to spend a vacation in Hawaii with my brother, Dr. Joseph Clem, as he was attending the American Psychiatric Association’s Convention in Honolulu. While he was attending the seminars with 10,000 other psychiatrists, I explored the culture and faith of the island of Oahu. I was able to attend two services at parishes associated with Saint Damien of Molokai, who just recently celebrated his feast day on May 10th.
First, I attended Mass at St. Augustine’s in Waikiki. This is a beautiful church that was begun in 1854 and the church building that now stands was built in 1962. It was beautiful to see parishoners adorn Mary’s May altar and other statuary with flower-laden leis, even Pastor Lane Akiona wore a lei during the service. The parish is planning to build a museum for Saint Damien, and they have relics from his time he was a priest in Honolulu (pictures below). Waikiki Beach area is a place of great beauty near the ocean, and the Hawaiin people are warm and welcoming. However, the area is a place of great wealth with fine shopping and dining, but in contrast it also has people experiencing great poverty and homelessness. I felt a bit awkward wearing my backpack to communion, but the ushers urged all men and women to leave nothing in the pews, as it would be at risk of being stolen. The parishes of Honolulu offer soup kitchens and other supports for the poor, homeless, and sick, in the same spirit of Saint Damien.
Joseph De Veuster was born in 1840 in Belgium and later chose the name Damien in religious life. His older brother Auguste was a priest with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts and urged him to join the order. Joseph joined and was tutored in Latin and Greek by his brother to work towards his candidacy for priesthood. His brother was asked by his bishop to go to Hawaii to minister to the sick, but became sick himself with typhus, so brother Damien volunteered to go in his place. Damien arrived in Honolulu and was ordained a priest in 1864 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. He was assigned to help on the remote island of Molokai to minister to those with leprosy (now called Hansen’s Disease). These people were banished to a part of the island that was a peninsula only accessible by boat, and life had deteriorated to a place of lawlessness and poor living conditions. Father Damien acted as a priest, a physician, a carpenter, and a friend to these people in need of love and caring. Father Damien won over the people by first learning the Hawaiian language and customs, and then by showing his dedication and faith in action. Father Damien died from contracting leprosy in 1889 after sixteen years of service to the people of Molokai. Pope Benedict XVI canonized Damien on October 11, 2009.
I also attended services at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu where Saint Damien was ordained. It is a beautiful church built in 1843, and now houses a relic of Saint Damien (his right heel). Saint Damien was also fortunate to have the assistance of Blessed Mother Marianne Cope who came in 1888 with the Sisters of St. Francis to join in the ministry of Father Damien in Molokai. Blessed Mother Marianne Cope continued the work of Father Damien after his death and it is considered a miracle that she never contracted leprosy, or any other sister in the order. On May 14, 2005, Mother Marianne was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI. Blessed Marianne Cope’s relics (bone fragments) toured the six islands recently and then were dedicated in a Mass on May 13, 2011. I was touched in faith by the love and devotion the Hawaiian people have to their saints and ministries in their parishes. Aloha and Mahalo!
Do you have any stories to share about faith experiences while you were on vacation?
Note: Hansen’s Disease was made a treatable disease in the 1940’s with the development of sulfone drugs, and the majority of people are cured or are not contagious.