Religion and Spirituality

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Hugh E. Gentry/AP
The grave of Father Damien in the village of Kalaupapa on Molokai, Hawaii.

Community of Lepers May Lose Privacy When Saint Is Named

September 25, 2008 09:46 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Lepers who have chosen to remain isolated on a Hawaiian peninsula will need to prepare for the canonization of a former missionary.

Isolated Lepers on Hawaiian Peninsula Await Naming of Saint

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Although lepers quarantined on the peninsula of Kalaupapa, Molokai, were given permission to leave in 1969 when the government of Hawaii ceased enforcing the exile, some of the afflicted have chosen to remain at the settlement. But the relative peace and quiet they enjoy may be shattered when a priest named Father Damien is named a saint.

Current patients and residents of the sequestered peninsula take pride in Father Damien, and happily receive pilgrims wishing to visit his grave, but when he is named a saint, there is a chance the area will be inundated with tourists. The government and the National Park Service, which runs a historic park on Kalaupapa, will make every effort to protect current residents. State Sen. J. Kalani English said, “The priority is the patients,” emphasizing, “their privacy is paramount, their security is paramount, their dignity is paramount.” Currently, visitors are limited to 100 a day.

Father Damien lived in Kalaupapa and served the leper community when it was established in 1869, but died later of the leprosy, formally named Hansen’s disease. At the end of the 20th century, a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer came to Kalaupapa to pray to Father Damien, and within a year was completely healed. Finding no medical explanation, the Pope declared the recovery to be the result of an intervention by Father Damien, or, a miracle.

In order to become a saint, a person must be responsible for two posthumous miracles. Father Damien was beatified by Pope John Paul II after a first miracle was attributed to him. The second miracle was confirmed in July 2008, guaranteeing Father Damien’s canonization.

Father Damien moved to Hawaii from Belgium in 1864. A missionary, he was compelled to work with a community of lepers on Kalaupapa after they were exiled by the government. He died in 1889 at the age of 49, after he contracted the disease.

Background: Hawaii’s Leper Colony

In 1865, King Kamehameha V approved “An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy” during an outbreak, resulting in the founding of the leper community at Kalaupapa. Conditions were quite unpleasant for the banished group, but in his lifetime, Father Damien made great strides in improving day-to-day life for the sick.

Recently, in April 2008, the government issued an official apology to the patients and families quarantined at the island. Although the exile was lifted in 1969, some have chosen to remain. There is a National Park at Kalaupapa to commemorate those whose were exiled.

Reference: Leprosy today

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