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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 27, 2003

Diocese receives word of Damien miracle

By Matt Sedensky
Associated Press

Father Damien DeVeuster, the Belgian priest who devoted his life to leprosy patients on Moloka'i and then died of the disease, is edging closer toward sainthood.

Portrait of Father Damien DeVeuster, as painted by Marcelo Vendiola.
The Diocese of Honolulu will formally establish a commission to investigate a newly reported medical miracle attributed to Damien, said Patrick Downes, the diocesan spokesman.

If that investigation finds legitimacy in the claims, and the reported miracle withstands the scrutiny of theologians, doctors and scientists with the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Damien could be canonized. It requires the pope's approval.

Details on the reported miracle were scarce yesterday.

Downes said a local doctor came forward to report a patient's spontaneous, unexplained recovery, attributed to Damien's heavenly intervention. Downes believed that the healing occurred in Hawai'i sometime in the past few years.

"There has been reported a miracle — an alleged, unexplained healing," he said. "This is hopefully the miracle needed to get him through the final step toward canonization."

To fulfill the Roman Catholic Church's criteria for canonization, the commission must essentially prove to the Vatican that there was no scientific explanation for the patient's recovery.

The Rev. Joseph Grimaldi, vicar general of the Honolulu Diocese, is heading the canonization cause locally. Grimaldi was in meetings on the Mainland and unavailable to provide details.

Church officials said the Rev. Emilio Vega Garcia, postulator general with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the order Damien belonged to, is in Honolulu from Rome to investigate the reported miracle. Messages left for Vega yesterday were not immediately returned.

Church officials on Moloka'i said Vega was expected to visit the Kalaupapa settlement that continues to house some 40 patients of Hansen's disease — the contemporary term for leprosy.

Downes said the diocese planned to announce the beginning of the commission's work sometime in March.

Revered worldwide, Damien ministered to thousands of society's untouchables who were banished to the isolated peninsula on Moloka'i and left to die.

Father Damien went to Kalaupapa in 1873 at age 33 to minister to leprosy patients. Since his death in 1879, Damien's sainthood has been urged, but an organized effort wasn't led on his behalf until 1936.

Damien reached the final step before sainthood — beatification — in 1995, 100 years after a French nun dying of a gastrointestinal illness miraculously recovered. She had begun a novena to Damien before slipping into unconsciousness.

The report of a second posthumous miracle is good news for followers of Damien, who is honored with statues in front of the State Capitol, and in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

"We've been waiting a long time for this to happen," said Irene Letoto, who has directed the Damien Museum in Honolulu for more than 20 years. "But we think he's a saint already."