Friday, October 16, 2009


During my most recent interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, I mentioned one of my family's favorite stories about our trip to Hawaii several years ago. We stayed on Molokai, which is where the Hawaiians go to vacation.

In addition to my wife and kids, my mother, my grandmother, my sister and her husband and his mother all made the trip. The whole group went on sightseeing expeditions to places like Tuddie Purdy's macadamia nut farm and a church built by Fr. Damien de Veuster. The older generation would stay back at the condo resort while my wife and I took our kids to the beach.

Fr. Damien was well on his way to sainthood during our visit. In fact, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI just this past Sunday. While we were off at the beach one day, my grandmother saw a news story about a relic of the holy man returning to the islands.

The hand of St. Damien was going to be somewhere in Honolulu on the same day that we would be flying home. Grandma wanted to see the hand before we left. Nowadays, it would be easy to Google the hand and find the news story Grandma had seen. Back then, I had no Internet access on vacation but I wasn't going to let Grandma down.

We flew from Molokai to Honolulu on a Sunday morning. We had gone to a vigil Mass the night before and had some time to kill before our flight to Los Angeles. I took the group to Hilo Hattie's and told Grandma that all I needed to find the hand was a phone and a roll of quarters. In those days, if you weren't at home and needed to make a phone call, you would look for a public phone and put coins into it to get it to work. Weird, huh?

The payphone had a phone book with it. I looked for listings that started with St. somebody or Our Lady of whatever. One church after another told me the same thing: the hand had been displayed there but had since moved to another church. I went through a bunch of quarters until I got confirmation that the hand was at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

I got everybody to the cathedral before the next Mass started and eagerly went inside to see the hand. An usher pointed us toward a side altar where it was displayed. We were told that Fr. Damien wanted to be buried among the lepers he served on Molokai but that his superiors arranged for his body to be returned to his home country of Belgium. Many years later as a compromise, his body had been exhumed and his "healing hand" removed and sent to Hawaii. I guess I had been expecting to see something that looked like a mummified Thing from the Addams Family. I was disappointed that all I saw was a box, which they called a coffin.

Another relic will be touring the islands for the remainder of October. The Pope presented a bone from St. Damien's heel to Bishop Larry Silva. It was briefly on display in Detroit, San Francisco and Oakland this past week.

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