Father Damien de Veuster's canonization as a saint with four others Sunday drew thousands to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but it was especially awe-inspiring for Maui Catholics.
"It was wonderful," said the Rev. Ramon Francisco of Waihee's St. Ann's Church from Rome. "We were shouting, 'Viva Damien from Molokai! Viva St. Damien!' ''
Because of rain the canonization ceremony and Mass were moved inside St. Peter's Basilica, which can hold thousands - not nearly enough room to hold a crowd estimated at tens of thousands. But the Rev. Gary Colton of Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina was among those lucky enough to get a seat inside, although it was behind the altar, which blocked Colton's view.
Pilgrims from Hawaii attended a ceremony outside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Musician Irene Cambra wears a Damien T-shirt while helping to lead worship Saturday at Christ the King Church
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Churchgoer Francisca Acob is illuminated by the light of the stained glass at Christ the King Church as she prays Saturday afternoon.
"I knew it would be a mob of people. It was just a mass of humanity trying to get in," he said. Nevertheless, he found it "really powerful" to have been at St. Peter's during such a historic moment for Hawaii Catholics.
Colton said the key moment was when Pope Benedict XVI said "descernimus," a Latin word meaning "we accept."
"I'm ready to jump for joy, jump up and down," he said, but he turned to two fellow Hawaii priests and asked: "That's it? It's now Saint Damien?" And they smiled. There was no clapping, no raised flags, just simply a "respectful and prayerful moment," he said.
At one point, Maui Community College English professor Vinnie Linares was within four feet of the pope. He also had made his way into St. Peter's Basilica in what he described as "a sometimes difficult and dangerous entry."
Linares, who starred in a one-man theater performance of Damien, wrote in an e-mail that the time, money and energy devoted to the trip was well worth it.
"It was totally chicken skin, and I was in some type of 'state' I have only experienced a few times in my life," he wrote. "When we poured out of the church, the sun was shining, people were gleeful, happy and many ecstatic about the experience in spite of the early morning chaos."
At Kalaupapa, the heirs of Damien's services to Hansen's disease or leprosy patients who did not make the trip to Rome stayed up late to watch the ceremonies on television.
On Sunday, they attended Mass and had ice cream and a cake from Komoda Bakery with Damien's name in icing, according to Valerie Monson, coordinator of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit organization that consists of patients, their family members, friends, church leaders, officials and others who have a longtime interest in the community and its legacy.
Then the patients of the settlement and their friends made a procession to Kalawao, where Damien's original grave was and where a marker commemorates all those Hansen's disease patients who died at Kalaupapa without individual memorials.
They laid a bouquet of ti and anthuriums in memory. "It was a really nice day," despite occasional showers, Monson said.
Halfway around the world from Kalaupapa, Francisco said in a long-distance call that he was situated outside St. Peter's Square where he could see the pope clearly and without obstruction after the Mass.
"It was very inspiring, very inspiring," he said.
Darlene Cachola, a former Maui resident now working on Oahu, was near Francisco but could not see the large television screens set up to watch the Mass led by Pope Benedict XVI.
"It was still very nice," Cachola said.
Cachola's mom, Corazon Constantino of Pukalani, described being surrounded by "miles and miles of people" in St. Peter's Square. "But just the idea of being there, it makes me proud that we finally have a saint for Hawaii."
Constantino added: "I'm glad I came. In spite of how far we were from the pope, I still got to see the people and that's the closest I've been to a pope."
Carmelita Madriaga, 63, of Waikapu, was exhausted but exhilarated after the Mass.
"The TV could not be enough. I wanted to see the pope up personal, and it was very, very worth it, very much worth it."
Madriaga said she's purchased a bunch of items with the Damien image on them from Rome. These include books, key chains, rosaries and even a cross.
"I want to visit Molokai next," she said.
Sister Angie Laurenzo, who ministers at Christ the King Church parish in Kahului, said she closed her eyes at one point during the Mass so she could concentrate on the pope's voice and the prayers and scripture readings recited in foreign languages including Italian, Greek, Polish and Latin.
"It was un, unbelievable, a beautiful experience and so uplifting," Laurenzo said.
A nun with 48 years of service, Laurenzo said attending the canonization was one of the highlights of her life in the church. "It was just so regal and royal."
"It was a wonderful experience," said Deacon Stan Franco of St. Theresa Church in Kihei. "For me, it just confirms the vision I have of what I should be doing."
Franco said he and his wife, Stephanie, have long admired Damien's work with Hansen's disease patients who were forced to live on Molokai. Franco said he was inspired to continue his work to help Mauians get decent, affordable housing and to work with St. Theresa's Hale Kau Kau, providing meals to those in need.
"Damien has always been a model for me," he said.
Frank Chargualaf, a choir leader at St. Theresa's, said he and his wife, Mildred, awoke at 4:30 a.m. to begin getting ready to go to St. Peter's Square.
Once there, "oh man, it was chaos," he said. "I was hoping to get closer to the pope. I felt blessed and privileged to be there."
Mildred Chargualaf said she was elated.
"I really felt like it was a dream come true because we've been wanting to come to Rome," she said. "Even though you didn't understand what they were saying, you could feel the spirit."
Mrs. Chargualaf called the canonization a "spiritual experience" like no other. "There was this unity with all the people there. We understood the purpose of it all and even though we didn't know each other, we knew Father Damien and what he represented."
Damien ministered to people afflicted with Hansen's disease for 16 years on Molokai where he died in 1889 at the age of 49 from the same disease.
"Damien entered into the darkness of humanity," said the Rev. Efren Tomas, the leading priest for the Maui Catholic vicariate and pastor at Christ the King Church in Kahului.
On Maui on Sunday, parishioners at Christ the King finished a weeklong novena with prayers and songs to Damien.
Tomas pointed out in his homily this weekend at Masses that Damien "fought" to get to Hawaii, volunteering to fill in for his older brother, a priest who fell ill and could not fulfill an assignment to minister in the islands.
According to Tomas, Damien was initially rejected for an assignment in Hawaii because he had not finished his theology studies and, in fact, had to study here and then be ordained in Honolulu.
He worked for nine years on the Big Island before he voluntarily agreed to minister to Hansen's disease patients on Molokai. His first assignment was only supposed to last three months, but Damien pledged to stay longer. "Three months became 16 years," Tomas said.
He called on Catholics to model their lives after Damien and to be more welcoming to the outcasts and abandoned in their communities.
"Damien doesn't want us to admire him. He wants us to imitate him."
Irene Cambra, an organist at Christ the King, had written a song in dedication to Blessed Damien called "Favorite Son of Molokai." She worked some 20 years ago with the late Rev. Joseph Hendricks, a former priest at Kalaupapa who died last year and had expressed support for Damien's canonization.
Cambra also led the singing of the "Hymn to Blessed Damien" with lyrics by Hendricks to the tune of the "Hymn of Joy" by Christopher Words-worth. Cambra said she stayed up past her regular bedtime Saturday to watch the canonization live from Rome.
On Sunday morning, she remembered the significance of the ceremony and watched a re-broadcast on TV. It was then that she was inspired to change the lyrics in the songs from "Blessed Damien" to "Saint Damien."
"I just feel so close to him," she said. "I think everybody feels that way. We now have Saint Damien. I'm in awe."
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at email@example.com. Harry Eagar contributed to this story.