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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 3:38 p.m., Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hurdle cleared in path to Father Damien's sainthood

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

One hurdle has been cleared in the road to sainthood for Blessed Father Damien de Veuster, the "leper priest of Moloka'i."

The cause for sainthood had been stalled in 2005, when a local tribunal reconvened to clear up questions over whether a miracle truly belonged solely to prayers to Damien, who eventually had died of Hansen's disease.

A communique from Rome issued last week by the order to which Father Damien belonged, said a miracle attributed to Damien passed a very important authority: a medical committee that decides if such events are indeed miraculous.

Two miracles are needed for sainthood. In Damien's case, the first involved a European nun, already confirmed, required for the beatification. Now that he's officially "blessed," the second miracle must pass several more hurdles before Blessed Damien can become St. Damien.

The second miracle involves a Honolulu woman who had her lung cancer cured; the case was written up in the Hawai'i Medical Journal in 2000, titled: "Complete spontaneous regression of cancer."

Damien was beatified in Belgium by John Paul II in 1995.

"Now it goes to theological commission," said the Rev. Lane Akiona, who belongs to the same Sacred Hearts order as de Veuster. "It puts Father Damien back on track. The fact that the medical commission approved it, that's a very good sign for us.

"It's moving, instead of being stalemated."

The medical commission is part of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, the main clearinghouse in Rome where canonizations are examined.

"The medical commission cited that it was truly a dramatic healing," said Patrick Downes, spokesman for the diocese. "Whether it's attributed to Damien is the decision of the theological commission."

After a Hawai'i tribunal passed the case as "an unexplainable cure," the lung cancer case was sent to Rome, who had sent it back for clarification, Downes said.

"There's no telling when next step will be," he said. "The theological commission has to review the medical commission's conclusions, then the bishops and cardinals have to take both reports and make recommendation to the pope for canonizations.

"From what I've been told, this is a significant step. A lot of causes don't make it beyond the 'authentic miracle' part."

Reach Mary Kaye Ritz at mritz@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8035.

On the Web: Sacred Hearts order, www.ssccpicpus.com