WAILUKU - Several months ago, Haiku artist Philip Sabado did not immediately heed his brother's call to stop what he was doing and begin painting a portrait of Father Damien.
But Father Damien reappeared again and again as Sabado prayed.
"Father Damien kept on coming in my morning prayer," said Sabado.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Maui artist Philip Sabado poses with his painting of Father Damien Wednesday in his Wailuku studio.
So for about two weeks he did research on Damien and then set out to paint the saint, who will be canonized Sunday in Rome. Sabado finished his watercolor portrait of Damien in late July.
It has received the blessing of the Most Reverend Larry Silva, bishop of the Honolulu Diocese. The Rev. Christopher Keahi, provincial superior of the Sacred Hearts order, has hailed Sabado's work as "one of the best." It also carries his blessing, according to a release from Sabado.
Now reproductions of his portrait are being sold by churches and will be sold during a Damien relic tour on Maui later this month. It is also featured, along with other artists' expressions of Father Damien, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, said Sabado's wife, Christine. The exhibition runs until Nov. 3.
Sabado has already made donations of giclees (a fine art print from a digital source) to agencies such as the ARC of Maui County, which will display the painting at its first Molokai licensed care home for adults with developmental disabilities when it opens next year. Copies have also been donated to other organizations such as the Maui Academy of Performing Arts and the Kidney Foundation.
Sabado, who paints in watercolors and oils, was raised in Maunaloa on Molokai. He said that when he paints he just lets everything "fall into place," which is what happened in this portrait. He had no plan or outlines.
"It kind of just happens, the way I paint these images. They just come," he said.
In his watercolor portrait of Damien, otherwise known said Jozef de Veuster, the Belgian priest who ministered at the Hansen disease settlement in Kalaupapa, Sabado shows a large image of Damien whose cloak surrounds St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church, the church where Damien worshipped at Kalawao, the site of the original settlement.
Alongside Damien's right shoulder is the lauhala (sometimes called the puhala) tree where Damien slept on his first day at the settlement, according to Sabado.
On Damien's left shoulder is the Kalawao coastline with turquoise water. The coast was where those afflicted with leprosy (as it was then fearsomely known) were dropped off the boat and were left to drown or swim to the settlement.
Sabado said Roman Catholic leaders and others who have seen the painting have pointed out significances in what he has painted, some of which Sabado didn't know himself.
A priest told him the placement St. Philomena Church near Damien's heart symbolizes that the church was in Damien's heart. A Hawaiian cultural expert told Sabado that when someone's iwi or bones are tossed into the water, the water turns turquoise if the person goes to heaven.
Sabado believes the turquoise water he painted shows that "all the people died over there went to heaven."
While he painted Damien's portrait, Sabado also felt he had spiritual guidance, especially when he embarked on painting nine patients at the settlement. He said he felt there were times when those who had leprosy did not want to be painted. But then one person came forward, wanting to be painted as "perfect" as if he did not have the disease.
So Sabado painted nine patients with their images blurred.
Sabado's daughter-in-law told him that at the time of his painting, there were nine from Kalaupapa who were going to the canonization. But now there's more, Sabado said.
Another feature Sabado did not consciously frame was putting the fabric used in Damien's sling right where the sling would have been on his chest. In the watercolor, Damien's right hand, which was more affected by disease, is missing, but the material used in his sling is at his chest.
As a youngster growing up on Molokai, Sabado said he always knew Kalaupapa as "kapu" (taboo) or the place one was not supposed to go, so he never ventured there. But five or six years ago he did visit.
Much of Sabado's knowledge of Damien has come through his recent reading in preparation for the portrait.
Sabado said he will keep the original painting in Hawaii. He's not sure if it will be at a future Damien museum or in Kalaupapa.
Sabado said Catholic leaders have said Damien would have wanted the painting in the islands.
Sabado sells his prints wholesale to churches who then can resell the prints at their own prices. He said part of the money raised will go toward a scholarship for a student on Molokai who would like to have a career in the medical field, just like Damien.
He said he is also working with Ka 'hana O Kalaupapa to see how his work can benefit them.
Ka Ohana O Kalaupapa, a union of Kalaupapa patients, their family members and friends, is dedicated to promoting the value and dignity of every individual exiled to Kalaupapa since 1866.
Sabado will not be in Rome for the canonization, but said he expects T-shirts and bags with his Damien portrait will be with folks attending the ceremony. Sabado said he will probably be at an Oahu Catholic church during the ceremony as he has been asked by churches to be present.
Christine Sabado said she got a call from U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's office, informing her that Abercrombie was going to take a print of Sabado's work to President Barack Obama.
Prints are being sold online with other commemorative merchandise at: www.sabadostudios.com.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.