For 78-year-old Kalaupapa patient Pauline Chow, Mother Marianne Cope's canonization was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Chow was among only a handful of people to receive Holy Communion directly from Pope Benedict XVI during a canonization ceremony Sunday for seven new saints in Rome.
"It was special," said Chow, who has difficulty hearing but received help during a cellphone interview from a nun who relayed questions to her during a Hawaii group's lunch.
A tapestry of Mother Marianne Cope hangs from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican as Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a canonization ceremony Sunday. Mother Marianne was declared a saint by the pontiff along with six others during the ceremony.
Chow agreed she was still "walking on cloud nine" several hours after the ceremony.
Sister Alicia Damien Lau of Manoa, Oahu, was the other Hawaii resident chosen to receive Communion from the pope.
"As I was walking up (to receive Communion) my first thoughts were that of our congregation and that of Mother Marianne. I prayed that we will continue in her legacy," said Lau, who could be easily spotted in the Communion line because she wore a lei.
Lau, who belongs to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, the same community as Cope, added that she reflected on her "faith in my family" and "sisters in my congregation."
The two women were part of around 225 Hawaii residents who witnessed the canonization of Mother Marianne Cope, also known as the "Mother of Outcasts" for taking care of leprosy patients in Hawaii including those in Kalaupapa, Molokai, for 30 years beginning in 1888.
Six others were also canonized during a nearly three-hour ceremony at a sunny St. Peter's Square at Vatican City Sunday morning, which began at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Hawaii time.
During his homily to a crowd of around 80,000, the pope read biographies of the new saints and noted Cope's work as founder of Maui's first hospital, Malulani. He also said Cope showed the "highest courage" and spoke about her taking over the work of caring for leprosy patients after then father and now St. Damien died in Kalaupapa shortly after her arrival there.
Retired Maria Lanikila pastor the Rev. Gary Colton accompanied Hawaii Bishop Larry Silva and the Rev. Lane Akiona of Oahu, as they sat in an area close to the main altar.
"I am extremely grateful to be in Rome for the ceremony. I am even more grateful to be a celebrant at the Mass," Colton said in a email Sunday afternoon from Rome. "Also, it felt like the whole world was there because the crowd of over 10,000 people were there from the Philippines, Hawaii, North America, Italy, Germany, Spain and France, where the new saints were from."
"The celebration was wonderful beyond words," Colton said.
Large images of each of the new seven saints also hung outside St. Peter's Basilica during the ceremonies.
Another Kalaupapa patient, Meli Watanuki, said she felt Cope's spirit with the Hawaii contingent.
"She know we love so much of her," Watanuki said.
The patient has long prayed to Cope and has done so when she herself was ill.
"I feel her spirit was with me. I come alive," Watanuki added.
"It was really, really, marvelous," she said of the canonization.
Nine patients from Kalaupapa made the trip to Rome, the second time in three years. All of the patients, plus two others who didn't make this trip, went to Rome in 2009 to witness the canonization of Father Damien, a Belgian priest who also worked tirelessly with leprosy patients in Kalaupapa.
Lau said the canonization of Mother Marianne was "totally different" from what she experienced during the canonization of Damien in 2009. This time, she said, she was more involved with the research on Mother Marianne.
"It was extremely emotional in this case," she said after witnessing the canonization Sunday.
Now Hawaii, and particularly Molokai's Kalaupapa, can celebrate having two saints.
In 1883, Mother Marianne answered the call from Hawaiian monarchy to come to Hawaii to care for leprosy patients when others didn't. She was 45 years old and had arrived with six other Franciscan sisters from Syracuse, N.Y. She served as an administrator at Honolulu's Kakaako Branch Hospital for leprosy patients, opened Kapiolani Home for the daughters of leprosy patients and founded Maui's first general hospital, Malulani.
Mother Marianne went on to the Kalaupapa settlement in 1888. She and her fellow sisters ran various homes on the settlement, including one founded by St. Damien. Mother Marianne never went back to the Mainland and spent the rest of her life at Kalaupapa. She died there in 1918 at the age of 80.
Her remains were exhumed from her Kalaupapa grave site in 2005 to be taken back to the Motherhouse chapel of her Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse. While large bones were exhumed from the grave, Lau said many of Mother Marianne's smaller, brittle bones remained in Kalaupapa soil.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.