October 16th has always had a special place in my mind and my heart as it was on that day, 39 years ago, that a Polish cardinal was elected to the See of Peter and took the names John Paul II. I was actually in Cairo, Egypt the night he was elected and that in itself is a great story – but for another day.
I followed almost every day of St. John Paul’s magnificent papacy, and our lives intertwined a number of times during the years I worked in the Vatican. When I tell people those stories, they always say “God bless you!” And I reply, “He really has!”
As a saint, he is now with us, more than ever. Someone to pray to and someone whose life (and death) can be an inspiration!
ALOHA FROM HONOLULU!
Yesterday was a remarkable day, as I posted on Facebook during my travels….travels that encompassed 4 cities (Rome, Frankfurt, San Francisco and Honoulu) and 12 time zones in 24 hours!
I was tired but, oddly enough, not exhausted and attribute some of that to PMA, a Positive Mental Attitude. I try to immediately adjust to where I am, not think about what time it is where I came from, and then just proceed as normal. I went to a local ABC store, got things for breakfast, had a sandwich for dinner and then unpacked.
As you know, I’m here for this weekend’s Saints Damien and Marianne Catholic Conference at the convention center. I’ve already been in touch with my friends here and with conference organizers and things look very promising – lots of enthusiasm about the conference guest speakers (https://www.dmcchawaii.org/speakers).
As I was about to get off the plane in San Francisco, I told the attendant who had been such a jewel on the flight from Frankfurt that I still had a six-hour flight ahead of me to Honolulu. A woman in the seat in front of me remarked how lucky I was to be going there, I agreed and explained I was going to attend a conference and give a talk. She asked the subject and I replied that I’d be speaking on how to become a saint! The woman smiled and said she wished she could attend the conference, and then asked me to tell her how one becomes a saint. I said, “If by chance you’re on the flight to Hawaii, I can explain!”
As I sit at a table in the wonderful condo of a good friend to write this column, I once again marvel at the beauty of this land I love. Windows surround me, and everywhere I look, I see the Pacific Ocean, the white, foamy surf, the surfers on big, crashing waves, the sunbathers on Waikiki beach, the palm trees and my favorite, the plumeria trees. And then there’s Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater and surely Hawaii’s most famous landmark. It is directly in front of me as I write these lines.
As the saying goes, “Life’s a beach”
It’s also –
And Diamond Head –
And St. Augustine Church –
This was the first photo I ever took of Diamond Head –
As I was going through my photos, I found this picture from a previous trip and only now realize the tall building on the right is where I am staying – the penultimate floor (above me is the penthouse)
I found the following on a site about historic Pacific parks: Lē‘ahi is the traditional Hawaiian place name for the crater. It is said that Hi’iaka, sister of the fire goddess Pele, gave Lē‘ahi its name because the summit resembles the forehead of the ‘ahi fish. Another translation is “fire headland” and refers to the navigation fires that were lit at the summit to assist canoes traveling along the shoreline.
It is hard to believe, looking at the overwhelmingly beautiful nature that marks this corner of God’s creation, that so many lives were marked for so many years by exile, pain, loneliness and deprivation in this paradise. Families were separated and, most often, never able to be together again. The years, the decades, well over a century in fact, when people with leprosy were exiled to the Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai, those were dark years of hopelessness and fear – fear of contagion of a terrible disease for which, at the time, there was no remedy or cure.
There was no beauty on Kalaupapa for those exiles. They lived each day wondering about food, sanitation, a roof over their heads and, of course, medicines and medical care.
There was no hope for a bright future, for a job, for a tomorrow that promised to be even minimally better than today.
Until Fr. Damien arrived in 1873 at this isolated settlement to bring comfort and hope to these outcasts. Sixteen years among the patients of Hansen’s disease, improving their lot, little by little, day by day, trying to restore a lost sense of human dignity. Sixteen years of living heroic virtues until he died of leprosy in 1889.
In November 1888, a year before Fr. Damien died, Mother Marianne Cope arrived with six Sisters of St. Francis. She worked with the exiles for 30 years and died in 1918.
Damien and Marianne are the saints whose lives and virtues we will be looking at this weekend.
As the conference webpage states, its focus is “the respect of human life and dignity, marriage, youth and family life, education, social justice and evangelism.
A NOTE FOR TRAVELLERS : I flew from San Fran to Honolulu on United and, even though the flight is nearly six hours long, United does not serve a meal – you have to buy food. It is basically just snack food, except for a hamburger, a chicken wrap or a small pizza. United offered the same terrible choice on my September 9-hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu and that prompted me to write to the president of the airlines and to essentially say that not serving a meal on a 9-hour flight was inhuman.
I wrote the letter while on the plane and told the crew and they were delighted! They said they’d LOVE to serve a meal and were happy I wrote because they feel the powers-to-be listen more to passengers than to the personnel. I did get a very nice, lengthy letter from president Munoz’s assistant and some compensation for the issues encountered on the flight. She said there was one issue they were not aware of and was happy I wrote.
These lines are just to let you know that, as customers of a service you are paying for, you have rights, including the right to complain when something does not go as promised. Don’t make it angry, just factual.