Friday, October 9, 2009

Our friend, Joan Rome reporting from Joan's Rome...

"The last few days have been quite incredible. The group from Hawaii, as I mentioned, has been in Rome for Sunday’s canonization of Blessed Damien of Molokai, and they were at the Holy Father’s general audience yesterday. Audrey Toguchi, whose cure from lung cancer was credited to Damien’s intercession and was the miracle needed for his canonization, met Pope Benedict yesterday and was speechless at that privileged moment.

Another memorable moment yesterday was when I learned that a very dear friend of mine, Msgr. Bernie Hebda, was named the new bishop of Gaylord!! Bernie has been in Rome for 13 years and worked at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the last few years as under-secretary. I am totally delighted for Gaylord but there many of us who are heartbroken at the thought of losing such a wonderful, dear friend, our soft-spoken, always-there-when-you-need-him friend, lots-fun-to-be-with Bernie. And did I mention he is a truly wonderful priest! I know that Bernie, who is from Pittsburgh, has enjoyed his years but I also know he was yearning for some time to go back and be a pastor, to be a parish priest and administer to the faithful. Well, now Pope Benedict has given him a more sizeable flock! May God sit on your shoulder, Bernie!

Last evening at the Lateran University in Rome, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, presented his latest book, “The Difference God Makes.” University officials and invited guests, including the new U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, were present. I will be interviewing the cardinal about the book on Saturday morning so you can stay tuned in future weeks to “Vatican Insider” and learn how God makes a difference! Cardinal George is in town for the annual meetings of the top officials of the USCCB – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – with officials of the various congregations and councils of the Roman Curia. They also meet with Pope Benedict.

Today, Thursday, 30 wonderful young men from the North American College were ordained deacons, and 800 people came from the States – family members and friends - to attend the ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica. A huge reception followed in the courtyard at NAC which this year, by the by, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1859 by Pius IX.

My EWTN colleagues and I were there, not only to rejoice in the new deacons, but to film a “Joan’s Rome” spot for TV and to interview three men to talk about the priesthood for the EWTN spots, “The Call.” Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore spoke to us as did Fr. David Songy, O.F.M. Cap., director of counseling services at NAC, and one of the new deacons, Jacob Bertrand from San Diego. Jacob is very excited as he will be ordained a priest on June 11, 2010 – month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the end of the Year for Priests! I was privileged today to meet his truly beautiful family, starting with his amazing parents!

Finding a table in a restaurant these days has been a bit of a challenge, and anyone who came to Rome this past week without a hotel reservation was really out of luck! But there is so much joy visible on the faces of the pilgrims in town for the canonizations and the ordination that such happiness took your mind off the potentially long wait for a table!


Today we will start our visit to Kalaupapa, now a National Historical Park, but once a no man’s land, inhabited by lepers, banished here for the rest of their days, about whom Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “They were strangers to each other, collected (sic) by common calamity, disfigured, mortally sick, banished without sin from home and friends. Few would understand the principle on which they were thus forfeited in all that makes life dear; many must have conceived their ostracism to be grounded in malevolent caprice; all came with sorrow at heart, many with despair and rage. In the chronicle of man there is perhaps no more melancholy landing than this of the leper immigrants among the ruined houses and dead harvests of Moloka'i. But the spirit of our race is finely tempered and the business of life engrossing to the last. As a spider, when you have wrecked its web, begins immediately to spin fresh strands, so these exiles, widowed, orphaned, un-childed, legally dead and physically dying, struck root in their new place . . . fell to work with growing hope, repaired the houses, replanted the fields, and began to look about them with the pride of the proprietor. . . . And one thing is sure, the most disgraced of that unhappy crew may expect the consolations of love; love laughs at leprosy; and marriage is in use to the last stage of decay and the last gasp of life.”

As I traveled throughout the small peninsula, learning about Fr. Damien De Veuster, Mother Marianne Cope, OSF, who tended to the ill of Moloka’i for more than 30 years after Damien’s untimely death at the age of 40, “Brother” Joseph Dutton, and the 8,000 patients who lived and died here since 1866, I became aware of a great tragedy – the tragedy of people treated as the worst kind of outcasts and exiled to a small plot of land because of an illness they neither sought nor could cure (it seemed). Yet, far more than the tragedy, I became aware of a great love story, the love and charity and humanity of one man for his people, a man who saw “man’s inhumanity to man” on a small Pacific island which had become for the ill “a living tomb.” Damien sought not just to care for the health of the prisoners of Kalaupapa but to restore their innate human dignity.

I will tell just a brief story today in photos. In coming days we will visit Kalawao, the site of the very first settlement for victims of leprosy.

As you recall I flew from Honolulu to Moloka’i, then from Topside Moloka’i with Maria Sullivan to the peninsula of Kalaupapa. Maria and I were then driven by Gloria Marks to a clearing beyond the Settlement, where the patients live, along with workers from Hawaii’s Department of Health and the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Here we met the group that had come down the pali – the cliffs - on mules as you will see in these photos, including one man intent on filming every moment of his journey. A man after my own heart!

Go on over to Joan's blog to see her story and photos here.

No comments: