The Damien and Marianne Catholic Conference ended this morning with the third very special liturgy of the weekend. There was a Hawaiian Mass Friday, a Tonga celebration yesterday and the closing Mass this afternoon that featured various cultural elements and many languages.

To experience the Universal Church right here in the United States, in the very multi-cultural state of Hawaii was truly a joy. The beauty of the various languages and dress, the cultural customs incorporated into the Mass, the wonderful music, the pre-celebration dance by young children before our opening Mass, gave such a rich meaning to the Mass.

The Tongan Mass was so special. The Tongans create very special coverings for the altar, the chair of the main celebrant, the ambo and, in one photo you will see, a small podium with a box on top containing relics of St. Damien had its own covering and was surrounded by a lei as well.

Flowers in the form of leis play a huge role in all ceremonies in Polynesian cultures. In Hawaii, the placing of a lei over the head and around the shoulders of a person exemplifies the bestowing of honor and respect, and also the spirit of aloha. According to Hawaiian tradition, the maile was the lei for people of all classes and all occasions. The maile is a long-lasting lei and probably the oldest and most popular material used in leis by the early Hawaiians. It is an open-ended horseshoe fashion lei made of the spicy scented green maile stems and leaves.

The maile is most often reserved for memorable occasions. It is known to many as the “lei of royalty,” given to signify respect and honor. The maile is very popular at weddings, graduations and especially proms. On the US mainland, young men usually receive a boutonniere from their prom dates. In Hawaii, they are presented with a maile lei. Wedding leis are a Hawaiian wedding tradition. The maile is the most traditional wedding lei, as it was used by the Kahuna (Hawaiian priest) in old Hawaii to bind the hands of the bride and groom, symbolizing their commitment to each other.

I was blessed to receive 7 leis in two days, one of which was a maile. In the days fo the monarch, only royalty could wear these, never the ordinary people.

Conference organizers prepared more than 50 informative, inspiring sessions by local, national and international presenters over a three-day period, with the goal of transforming the lives of attendees. The sessions covered a broad range of topics, including leadership development, faith formation, spirituality, youth and young adult programs, and social services, and inspiring talks on sainthood, pointing to the lives of Damien and Marianne.

I had so hoped to bring you numerous Facebook Live posts but FB Live never worked in the convention center! In my condo, on the street, in a restaurant or store, yes, but never the center. Here, however, a few photos from the Tongan Mass:

Conference president, Makaka Aiona, said organizers hoped to keep the conference practical with principles that attendees could apply right away. “Our goal was to show the relevance and role of Saints Damien and Marianne in addressing the challenges we face every day in our families, homes and community.”

Some of the featured speakers we heard over these three days:

Very special guest and liturgical celebrant; Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi of Tonga: you will hear directly from him on my EWTN radio program, Vatican Insider.

Father William Petrie (a very close friend of mine for many years) shared his experiences as a Sacred Heart priest involved with Hansen’s disease patients for 25 years in India in a sponsored ministry of St. Teresa of Calcutta. He also served as pastor at St. Damien Church on Molokai for five years. Mother Teresa said: “I have to become holy in the state of life I live, and you must become holy in the state of life you live.”

Sister Alicia Damien Lau, (also a good friend from my visits here to learn about St. Marianne) – a Sister of St. Francis, she offered practical advice on how to follow in the footsteps of a saint by showing how the decisions we make every day can make a positive difference.  She retraces the life of an ordinary woman called to live the gospels to the fullest and experienced true spirituality as she reached out in faith and love to restore dignity, grace and healing to the outcasts in Kalaupapa, Molokai.

Dr. Edward Sri, theologian, best-selling author and well-known Catholic speaker who appears regularly on EWTN television, provided sessions on how love in marriages can be transformative and life-giving.  He teaches that falling in love is easy; growing in love is more difficult.

Teens often feel their families are dysfunctional and an impossible challenge and Paul J. Kim, international speaker, musician, and licensed marriage and family therapist had a session on how God can make beautiful things come out of the ugliest situations.

Jackie Angel, Catholic musician, singer, songwriter, speaker, and youth minister, showed God’s plan for romantic relationships to avoid heartache and pain.

Dr. H. Anthony Chan gave tips on how even with a very busy life and a demanding career in science and engineering research, he has found peace in the sacraments and Eucharistic adoration – something that has changed his life and he is changing lives!

Patrick Boland – (A new friend as I am an ‘ex officio’ member of the Joseph Dutton Guild) Patrick first visited Kalaupapa 50 years ago, and has been absorbed by the stories and the people of the place ever since.  He has been a board member of the Damien Museum and Archives, a member of Ka `Ohana O Kalaupapa, the Bishop’s Damien/Marianne Commission and now the Joseph Dutton Guild.  On occasion, he is a driver/guide for Damien Tours; a tour service at Kalaupapa that was started by patient Richard Marks 51 years ago.

Maria Devera  – (I am also blessed to have Maria as a very dear and close friend) a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist whose journey has taken her to Loma Linda University Medical Center and Pediatrics, Child Psychiatry at Stanford University Medical Center and work in many communities in California before living in Hawaii. For the past 12 and a half years she has worked at Schofield Barracks Pediatric Clinic serving military families in Hawaii, in particular veterans returning from war zones, and her faith community. She has a passion for Brother Joseph Dutton and is a member of the Guild for his cause for canonization.

Audrey Toguchi – (one of my dearest friends) – Hawaii resident and retired school teacher whose recovery from lung cancer a decade ago stunned her doctor and was ruled a miracle by the Vatican. A warm, loving, humble lady, Audrey is a living, walking, talking phenomenon of Hawaiian history. She weaves Hawaiian history and her knowledge of St. Damien into a riveting story.

Kate D. Mahoney – The author of The Misfit Miracle Girl, Candid Reflections and an international speaker who travels the country to share anecdotes from life as patient and caregiver- it’s crisis, but with jazz hands. She is on a mission to inspire audiences across the globe sharing candid reflections and her miracle story – her miraculous cure from total bodily function shutdown due to the intercession of St. Marianne Cope.

Cardinal Mafi (l) and Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva (note the leis)

Audrey (l) and Kate – they just met for the first time!

Yours truly –