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Catholic Voice

 November 23, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Commentary

  Commentary links
 
A pilgrim’s experience:
returning St. Damien to Hawaii

 
Mary is the bridge to reunion
with the Anglican Church
 
A pilgrim’s experience:
returning St. Damien to Hawaii

From Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury in the 14th century to the contemporary trek of young people across France to the monastery of Taize, pilgrimage has represented a type of religious experience. Such too was the recent transfer of the relic of Father Damien of Molokai from Rome to its permanent place in the Cathedral of Peace in Honolulu.

The Hawaiian experience had all the breadth of pilgrim travel. The relic, beautifully encased, came from Damien’s canonization in Rome on Oct. 11 to the bustling city of Honolulu and then to sparsely populated Molokai with its rocky shores and some harsh landscape during a weekend of celebrations, Oct. 30-Nov. 1.

A police escort accompanied the relic and an ecclesiastical entourage to the far southeast corner of the island, stopping at the first of three churches built by Damien. The next day began with a flight on a small charter plane to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. On Nov. 1, the celebration climaxed with Mass at the Honolulu cathedral and a civic ceremony on the grounds of the Iolani Palace.

The reality of the civic celebration outlined the reach of Father Damien’s ministry. It was a deference paid by the society and by the State of Hawaii. The inherited culture and ritual, the use of language and chant had an authentic ring.

Princess Abigail, a descendant of the royal family from the days of the kingdom, spoke of the sympathetic collaboration between the king and queen and Damien of Molokai. The members of the Royal Order were in the procession, so was a state senator, a lieutenant governor who has a son in the seminary, and the Belgian ambassador, honoring Damien’s place of birth.

‘Best of friends’

There was a remembrance of Damien’s moving across ecumenical lines. A representative of the Mormon church said the invitation to participate was puzzling to him until he found out that a resident superintendant of the Molokai leper settlement, a Mormon who had accepted that responsible position in order to be with his exiled wife, was described as “best of friends” with the priest.

The Episcopal bishop confirmed the tangible mood that Damien “belongs to all of us” and a thank you was given to “the Mother Church for sharing”.

The personality of the saint loomed over our days. When visiting churches we became aware of his skill as a carpenter; he built his own house in the colony with the help of some of the residents in six weeks, a house that was 16’ by 10’. We saw a description of him as “mason, baker, farmer, medico and muse, grave digger.” He spoke the Hawaiian language well from his early days on the Big Island, a gift that served him well since the majority of patients on Molokai were native Hawaiians.

He dealt also with superintendants and those in charge of the State Department of Health. His were easy relations with the royal family. To pretend somehow that he was a rustic awkward man is misleading romanticism as well as a reminder that the Roman Congregation of the Causes of Saints does not have a category of saintly incompetents.

Nor was he “an old man.” He was in Kalaupapa at age 33, ill at 45, dead at 49. One observer had it right that he served in “the prime of his life.”

‘The measure of our zeal’

Beyond that, one must note what he was religiously. Some of his correspondence, read in a morning service at the church at Kamalo and by a graceful young woman at an ecumenical service in Kaunakakai, made the point: “The measure of our zeal should be that of Jesus Christ. . . . How happy I am to give everything, to live poor, and I no longer have anything of my own. Without the constant presence of our divine master, I would never be able to cast my lot with the lepers. . . . I try to make my way of the cross gently, and I hope to soon arrive at the summit of my Golgotha.”

His was a virile spirituality emerging from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in post-revolutionary France in 1817. Within the decade, Pope Leo XII requested them to be missioned to Oceania and in 1827 they began ministry in Hawaii. They are still there and still an important presence — priests, Brothers, Sisters.

The pilgrimage comprised local people, particularly the small communities on Molokai. Included was a woman whose miracle led to Damien’s canonization. Afflicted in 1998 with an aggressive cancer, this teacher visited the tomb of Damien after long years of devotion to him. The change in her health led a not particularly religious doctor to recommend that she bring her experience to Church authorities.

Particularly gracious was our frequent experience of Liturgy of the Hours. The small church at Kamalo kept much of the congregation outside, but they sang through the open windows.

A dramatic moment

Before we left the peninsula, we gathered at the gravesite of Mother Marianne Cope. A dramatic moment came when some of Molokai’s youth and teens from Damien High School in Honolulu brought the saint’s relic down the three-mile path from topside to the peninsula, an elevation change of 1,600 feet with 26 switchbacks. They were accompanied by Sacred Hearts Father Clyde Guerrero, the pastor topside, and a host of people. We met them with more psalms and song.

Honolulu’s Bishop Larry Silva, a priest of the Oakland Diocese and a central figure for the weekend observances, was born in Hawaii. His credentials reached a touching moment as we were leaving Kalaupapa. On the way to the airport on Molokai the school bus carrying us stopped to allow a visit to the grave of Bishop Silva’s great-grandfather and another of their family.

At the culminating liturgy at Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, the church in which Father Damien was ordained in 1864, Bishop Silva preached poetically on the blood of Christ and holiness. There was a strong team of responsible and talented ministers — deacons, lectors, masters of ceremony, leaders of songs in three languages — English, Hawaiian and Latin. There were local composers and poets just for the occasion.

An earlier Mass at Kalaupapa was equally engaging with Belgium Cardinal Godfreid Danneels as celebrant. What we learn from Father Damien he mused was the opportunities of Providence in our lives that we need to seize, persevere, live in hope without seeing all the fruits.

“Do not leave St. Damien on a podium,” he said. “Bring him into the patterns of your own life.”

(Retired Bishop John Cummins of Oakland was one of 12 California bishops who attended the St. Damien ceremonies in Hawaii, Oct. 30-Nov. 1.)

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Mary is the bridge to reunion with the Anglican Church

Although progress toward full Catholic and Anglican unity has been impeded by tensions caused by the ordination of an openly gay Anglican bishop, the Anglican blessing of some same-sex unions, and the acceptance of women bishops in some Anglican provinces, there is an enthusiastic meeting of the minds regarding the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history.

The Anglican perspective on Mary — and also that of the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and some other Protestant Churches — has been consistently drawing closer to that of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. This is especially evident in the liturgical and devotional life of these churches.

A brief, historical overview of Mary’s place in Anglican practice clearly attests to this. In the 16th-century Reformation, England, previously known as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” experienced a gradual elimination of devotion to Mary in opposition to Catholicism until almost nothing was left.

The few remaining vestiges later enabled a rebirth of interest in Mary when an improved theological climate prevailed.

The movement of the “Caroline Divines” in 17th century England saw a return to many Catholic values. This movement exerted a definite influence, but was not able to make significant changes in the liturgical prayers.

The Oxford Movement in the 19th century expressed the desire to enrich the devotional and liturgical life of Anglicanism. Gradually this gave rise to the demand for a complete reform and revision of liturgical texts in the 20th century in the various Anglican Churches, especially in the Church of England.

For example, the observance of August 15 was authorized as the principal feast of Our Lady in most Anglican Churches, but the title of the Assumption is avoided.

Several influences have contributed in modern times to this revival. Certainly the change in ecumenical climate, especially since the Second Vatican Council, has been a major factor.

In the forefront has been the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in England in 1967, and its counterpart in the United States.

The restoration of the ancient and revered sanctuary of Our Lady of Walsingham has played no little role. This shrine is a frequented place of pilgrimage for Anglicans, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics.

The revival of sacred art and music to bring Mary to the eyes and ears of Anglican worshippers has also been effective. Even the feminist movement has led to an increase of interest in the figure of Mary in circles not touched by High Church renewal.

The coast is clear in this area of reunion. The Blessed Virgin Mary is most definitely a bridge to reunion among these Churches.

Our goal and prayer: To the greater glory of God and the Virgin Mother of God.

(Marianist Brother John Samaha is a retired religious educator who worked for many years in the catechetical department of the Oakland Diocese. He now resides in Cupertino.)

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