The man who lived and died caring for Hawaii's outcasts in Kalaupapa more than 100 years ago became St. Damien in Rome today.
In a Mass that began at 10 a.m. today in Rome, 10 p.m. Saturday in Hawaii, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Damien and four others, formally lifting them to sainthood.
The ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican began with the pope reading a formal act of canonization, and continued with a chanting of the litany of saints.
Pilgrims from Hawaii line up to enter the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican today.
Benedict then recited the formal words of canonization, and in reciting the names of Damien and the four others, made them saints of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the hours leading up to the event, the excitement was building, and so were the crowds, said the Rev. Gary Colton of Lahaina's Maria Lanakila Church.
"It's just really hard to move," he said.
Jan. 3, 1840
Born Joseph de Veuster in Tremelo, Belgium.
May 21, 1864
Ordained at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, assigned to the Big Island.
May 10, 1873
Travels to Kalawao, Molokai, in order to live and work there, ministering to leprosy patients.
Diagnosed with leprosy.
April 15, 1889
Dies. Buried beside St. Philomena Church in Kalawao.
Jan. 27, 1936
Body is exhumed and taken to Louvain, Belgium, for reburial.
July 7, 1977
Declared "venerable" by Pope Paul VI, first step toward canonization.
June 4, 1995
Beatified by Pope John Paul II in Brussels, Belgium.
July 3, 2008
Unexplained cancer cure of Hawaii resident Audrey Toguchi is accepted by Pope Benedict XVI as the miracle required for Damien's canonization.
Today, October 11, 2009
Hawaii's first saint.
Colton called The Maui News from Rome, where it was 1 a.m. He had just returned from dinner, where his group had enjoyed music and singing, and had only five hours to rest before he would need to start getting ready to head to the Vatican for the ceremony.
An emotional, "chicken skin" moment Friday was seeing fellow travelers from Hawaii gathered together for Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
Also in Rome, Maui Community College professor Vinnie Linares, who portrays Damien in a long-running one-man play, said he was getting more and more excited as he got closer to the moment of canonization.
"I'm getting personally charged up waiting for Sunday and elated at the meeting with Hawaii people here and there," he said. "You see them wearing Damien shirts, T-shirts and carrying Damien bags - and so many Reyn's Damien shirts. I break my new one out on Sunday."
Back on Maui, Catholics were anticipating the big moment.
"We've been so excited," said Lucy Peros, a member of Christ the King Church in Kahului.
She expected to stay up Saturday night and watch the ceremony.
Peros said she was so excited about Damien's canonization that she put together a poster of things she has collected in the past about Father Damien and has it posted in the church.
She said the church has been devoting prayers and songs to Damien for more than a week.
Patients from Kalaupapa who made the trek to Rome were having the time of their lives - and eager to witness the canonization of the man many had prayed would someday be recognized as a saint.
"Two more days," Kalaupapa resident Gloria Marks said via cell phone Friday, as she and others took a bus tour to Assisi.
To the canonization itself, Marks planned to wear a shirt bearing Damien's picture - and said she would be thinking of Kalaupapa.
"I like to thank everybody who helped support this trip," Marks said. "Thank them for their prayers."
Norbert Palea, 68, was just jazzed to be in Rome.
"It's so romantic," the Kalaupapa resident said by cell phone. "Beautiful country, nice people."
He said the group was indulging in lots of gellato and pasta.
"Lots of wining and dining. We need a bigger plane to bring us back," he said with a laugh.
Although he said his feet were sore, he was still enjoying the sights and scenery.
"We're having a good time here," he added.
Back home, patients who stayed in Kalaupapa were not planning a jubilant celebration for the canonization - which began at 10 p.m. Saturday, Hawaii time.
Father Felix Vandebroek, who ministers at St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa, expected the night to be like it has been for more than a week: "quiet and peaceful." All the community's most energetic patients have gone to Rome, he noted.
The remaining patients, who are elderly and frail, would probably watch it on television from their homes or hospital beds.
Today, patients and their supporters at Kalaupapa will have their usual Sunday morning Mass, but they may mark the occasion with a processional through the town, followed by refreshments at the hospital, then a visit to Damien's grave in Kalawao, said Valerie Monson, coordinator of Ka Ohana O Kalaupapa, which works to preserve the history of Hansen's disease patients.
"It will not have the pomp and circumstance they have in Rome, but it will be no less spiritual and inspirational," Monson said.
Anthuriums will be placed on Damien's grave in Kalawao, just as the flowers were placed on Damien's tomb in Louvain, Belgium, by Kalaupapa patients visiting there.
Monson also wants to place the flowers on all the graves of those who died in Kalaupapa.
She said so many of them had waited to see Damien become a saint.
"They really wanted to see this day," she said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.