Touchdown at Kalaupapa
By Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa
On a lovely October morning, a plane glided to a perfect touchdown on Runway 5 and I remarked to Sister Theresa, “That has got to be Brittany.” Sure enough, it was Super Girl Brittany who soon pulled up to Terminal 1. Shortly thereafter she was joined by her husband, Captain Sean, Maui John, and Quick Nick, all ace pilots in their nine-seater Makani Kai planes. Their passengers, led by Bishop Larry Silva (Power to the Portuguese) were soon on terra firma eager to begin their pilgrimage to Kalaupapa and Kalawao.
After an initial greeting and prayer by Bishop Larry, Pat Boland, our long time pilgrimage guide from Saint Ann’s in Kaneohe, escorted the entire group of 35 to the waiting Damien Tours’ bus and set out for the township of Kalaupapa. There he showed them the local sites of historical importance including St. Marianne’s grave at the edge of the Bishop Home complex. Then it was on to St. Francis Church for the celebration by Bishop Larry of our Sunday Mass. Now Bishop Larry was so vibrant and eloquent in his homily that after Mass I told him that I would not need to preach for the next two Sundays. He smiled but did not give me a “dispensation.”
A visit to Kalaupapa is not a true pilgrimage without a visit to Kalawao and St. Damien’s Church, St. Philomena, 2.5 miles from Kalaupapa town. So after Mass everyone got back on the bus and steered a course for Kalawao, the site of the original Hansen’s Disease settlement prior to moving westward in 1932 to the more pleasant side in Kalaupapa township. There in St. Philomena Church, Pat Boland gave a history of the early settlement as well as the church, then invited Meli Watanuki to share her story with us. Meli did so in touching and inspiring fashion, culminating in her account of her participation in the ceremony for the beatification of St. Damien.
After praying at the graves of St. Damien and Brother Dutton, it was time for a quick visit to Judd Park and the landing place where many of the patients had come ashore. Then we returned to Kalaupapa and McVeigh Hall for a hearty lunch. As the saying goes, “That is what we do best,” that and small talk. By 2:30 p.m. all had gathered at the airport. It was time to say bye for now, as we waved our pilgrims into the October sky. Aloha.