Prayers, lei honor Hawaii’s saint in Washington, D.C.
By JOHN YAUKEY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The word “saint” isn’t used much on Capitol Hill.
But it was today among Hawaii’s lawmakers and a bishop from the Aloha State, who gathered to honor the recently canonized Saint Damien.
The Catholic missionary spent his adult life caring for people with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, on Molokai more than a century ago.
Damien died of the disease in 1889 at age 49.
Lawmakers and guests gathered for a prayer service and to place plain green lei at the feet of Damien’s bronze statue, which stands in the U.S. Capitol.
“Now we have a saint and a king here,” said Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, referring also to the statute of Hawaii’s unifying King Kamehameha, which also stands in the Capitol.
Damien was declared a saint on Oct. 11 in Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI.
He is the first saint from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and he was the ninth person elevated to sainthood for good works on what is now American soil.
“He’s an inspiration for us to serve those most in need,” said Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu Diocese, who attended the prayer and lei ceremony. “Father Damien reminds us to act, to do something.”
Damien arrived in Hawaii in March 1864 as a missionary, and was ordained into the priesthood two months later. He ministered to the people sent to Kalaupapa on Molokai, a remote area once reachable only by mule track. More than 8,000 people were sent to Kalaupapa from 1866 to 1969. Some people still live there.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said people on Hawaii had been talking about Damien’s potential sainthood for decades before it happened.
“It’s about time,” he said.