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In Rome, Hawaiian Mass Monday pays tribute to Damien

October 14, 2009
By MARY VORSINO, The Honolulu Advertiser

ROME - On their last night in this city, on the day after seeing Father Damien elevated to sainthood, hundreds came together for a Hawaiian Mass Monday that filled the ancient basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls with Hawaiian chanting, songs and hula.

Many said the Mass gave them chicken skin - and got them ready for the trip home.

Honolulu Diocese Bishop Larry Silva, wearing a black kukui nut lei, celebrated Mass, telling attendees that it "was a great joy as people from Hawaii pay tribute to a new saint." A relic of Saint Damien, which will eventually end up at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Downtown Honolulu after several stops on the Mainland and Neighbor Islands, was on the altar during Mass. The relic is Damien's heel bone, which came from Belgium.

"We venerate his mortal remains," Silva said at the Mass.

The choir then belted out "Saint Damien," which had been "Blessed Damien."

About 530 Hawaii residents, who have been on a pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization, were at the service. There was also a large contingent of Belgians, and a fair number of people who stopped to watch because of the hula halau and the choir.

The halau members wore shades of green in honor of Molokai.

They sang "Kamiano" and performed, drawing a standing ovation.

When the Mass wrapped up, many were wiping tears from their cheeks.

"For me, it was amazing. Never has there ever been (this) . . . in one of these churches in Rome," said Father 'Alapaki Kim, pastor of St. Rita Church in Nanakuli, who carried the Damien relic into the basilica and set it on the altar.

St. Paul Outside the Walls houses the tomb of St. Paul.

Its origins date back to 324 A.D.

John Fielding, grand knight of a Honolulu Knights of Columbus chapter, who took 10 Boy Scouts to Rome for the canonization, said the Hawaiian Mass was all the more special because of its magnificent venue. "It makes the world a lot more small," he said.

The Hawaiian Mass included readings in Hawaiian. And even beyond the 30-member hula halau and the choir wearing Father Damien aloha shirts, it had a decidedly Hawaiian feel: Many wore lei. The ukulele was a spotlighted instrument. And when the services concluded, the bishop took photos with the crowd.

Robert Mondoy, organist for the Hawaii choir, said the Hawaiian Mass, which came the day after Father Damien became Saint Damien, helped Hawaii residents express their gratitude and their joy in the ways they feel most comfortable. "It's kind of nice having our people using their own vocabulary of praise," Mondoy said. "It's our local voice."

Father Damien de Veuster, who ministered to Hansen's disease patients in the settlement of Kalaupapa for 16 years before his death from the disease in 1889, was canonized in a Sunday ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica. Some 20,000 attended the canonization of Damien and four others in the basilica, while tens of thousands more crowded into St. Peter's Square to watch the ceremony on large television screens.

At 10:30 a.m., Pope Benedict XVI officially added Damien to the Canon of saints.

More than 600 islanders attended the canonization, and most were part of a pilgrimage that spent about a week in Italy, celebrating Masses and visiting sacred sites.

Much of the group - including the bishop and 11 patients from Kalaupapa - first traveled to Belgium to see Father Damien's hometown in Tremelo and his tomb in Louvain.

Monday, during Mass, Silva said the canonization was "not the end of the story."

He continued, "We pray that Damien . . . will be an inspiration to us."



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