This Is Holy Ground
By Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa
It was 7:30 p.m. as we began celebration of Mass here at St. Francis Church. Now, ordinarily at this hour, I myself would be comfortably seated in my reclining chair in the rectory. No, I do not spend all day on my knees. At this stage in my life my knees need a rest and actually talk back to me at times. On this evening, members of the Newman Center from the University of Hawaii had gathered for Mass to give thanks to the Lord for a wonderful day of exploration of this Flat Leaf, otherwise known as Kalaupapa. This is holy ground.
I had happily escorted this pilgrim group to Kalawao, the site of the original Hansen’s disease settlement. But on the previous day, I had chickened out on this day as I was still recovering from jet lag, having recently returned from Ireland where my family had laid to rest my older brother, Frank. He had unexpectedly passed away from pancreatic cancer. State worker Harry Arce and 91 years young John Arruda did the honor of taking the group around the peninsula in their trucks. Amongst the notable places they visited was the now dormant crater, Kauhako, always an attraction even for older people like myself. It is holy ground.
The Old Woman’s cave is located on the outer edge of the peninsula and is at the ocean end of a lava tube. It is an attraction especially for the able bodied. Harry took some of the group down into this ancient cave while John stayed on top “to make sure that the women in the group did not get hurt.” What a wily fox! I myself have not ventured down into the depths of this cave since I might need to be hauled back up by rope. This is holy ground.
Some visitors come to Kalaupapa as part of a tour or out of curiosity. This Newman group had come, however, on pilgrimage to this sacred land of Saints Damien and Marianne and at the same time had enjoyed exploring the peninsula and witnessing its beauty. Now it was time to worship and to give thanks for this opportunity. So as darkness began to envelope this quiet neighborhood, we raised our voices in prayer and song: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” For this is holy ground.