The Healer’s Heel
Community welcomes Father Damien’s relic.
Encased within a glass box, within a wooden box, and within a koa box, nestled one of Saint Damien’s heel bones. For the past three weeks, the relic has toured across many of the islands, stopping for mass and prayer at dozens of churches. Finally, last weekend, the relic visited topside Molokai and Kalaupapa – the place closest to Saint Damien’s own heart. Here on Molokai, the people were “enthralled,” in the words of Rev. Christopher Keahi, the provincial superior of the Sacred Hearts congregation in Hawaii.
“[The reaction] gave all the bishops [a sense] how alive faith is here, that all people have Saint Damien in their hearts,” he said.
“Are we ready to roll?” said Bishop Larry Silva, leader of the Diocese of Hawaii, as he waited on Friday night for the inter-faith service to begin at Kaunakakai Ball Field. More than a dozen bishops from Hawaii, California and even a few Belgian Catholic dignitaries were also on hand to honor and welcome back to Molokai the Saint Damien relic.
In its second to last stop, the relic’s tour across Molokai included a prayer service at St. Joseph Church, a mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church – both of which were built by Father Damien – and an interfaith service across from St. Sophia at the baseball field. Over one hundred Molokai faithful and world-wide visitors listened and sang together.
After the service, the relic was available all night at St. Sophia for private prayer and veneration.
The procession included ten bishops and an archbishop from California, Bishop Silva and Rev. Keahi from Hawaii, and Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, who is also the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.
“It’s quite an experience having all the bishops here with us as we brought a part of Father Damien back to his beloved people, back to Molokai,” Keahi said.
Keahi used to run the Damien Museum in Honolulu, and brought prayer cards and Saint Damien metals for those who attended the service.
John and Joyce Monody, members of the Saint Damien Parish, said the whole tour and ceremony was overwhelming.
“He’s our hero,” Joyce Monody said. She added Father Damien’s patience is the characteristic she admires the most. “He went through his work whether he was sick or not.”
Another important guest was the provincial of the Sacred Hearts congregation in Belgium, Frans Gorissen. He spoke about the ‘indefinable connection’ between Belgium and Hawaii. The Sacred Hearts congregation began sending priests on Hawaiian missions starting in 1825 – and there have always been several in Hawaii ever since. There are currently seven Hawaiian priests in Belgium for the Sacred Hearts.
Also among the guests was Audrey Toguchi, the woman who was cured of cancer six years ago after praying to Father Damien. Bishop Silva gave her special thanks during the topside service.
“We would not be here celebrating this canonization were it not for the miracle that God worked of the prayers of Saint Damien,” he said. “That miracle was granted through the faith of a woman who is with us today.”
Kalaupapa, One Last Time
The morning after the service, as the first light crept over the pali and the wind soughed among the iron wood trees, a dozen or so well-wishers gathered at the top of the Kalaupapa path. It was the start of the relic’s journey down the three-mile pali trail to briefly visit the last place that Saint Damien called home.
Several young men were chosen to hike the relic down the trail, protected in a backpack they passed among them. Molokai brothers Ralph and Travine Johnson had also carried the relic from St. Sophia to the field in the service the night before. The boys were picked for the task by Rev. Guerrero.
“It’s kind of an honor [to be chosen],” Ralph said.
Ralph and Travine were joined by another Molokai student, Kamalani Bicoy, and two students from Damien Memorial School in Oahu, Jerick Sablan and Jonathan Padron. They also carried four flags: first the American flag, followed by the Damien of Tremeloo flag, the Papal flag, and finally the Hawaiian flag.
The boys and their chaperones met the rest of the delegation at the foot of the trail – the bishops had flown down that morning – and after a brief service by Cardinal Danneels, rode to the original settlement of Kalawao for a special mass.
St. Philomena was the church that Father Damien had served for most of his time on the settlement, and had recently undergone a renovation, opening in time for this service.
Lei were placed on the koa box, in front of the alter at St. Philomena, where Cardinal Danneels continued to lead the service.
The patients of Kalaupapa, representing those whom Father Damien served so willingly, are happy to have him back however briefly. Although his heel bone will be taken to a final resting place in Honolulu, Kalaupapa has its own relic buried next to St. Philomena. His wrist bone was brought to Kalawao in 1995, for his beatification.
“His presence is always here with us,” said Norbert Palea, a Hansen’s disease patient, via KGMB9. “So even if they take his body, it’s just the body. But his spirit lives on in Kalaupapa.”