Voices of Angels and Saints

Voices of angels sang out while the crowd exploded to 50,000-60,000 in St. Peter’s Square. 

By 7:00 AM, the line to get in past security was more than a block long and busses continued to drop people off.  Dressed in Sunday best, jeans, disco bling, sweats bearing plumbers’ smiles and white collars from around the world.

A melange of languages from all continents were heard, but services were conducted in  Spanish, Polish, French, and Italian.  Although Damien is recognized for serving the people of Kalaupapa while Hawai’i was still a kingdom, Hawaiian was not spoken and neither was English until the very end of the 3.5 hour ceremony.

We were glad to see that both President Obama and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman issued statements abou the sainthood of Damien.  Governor Linda Lingle proclaimed October 11 to be Saint Damien Day, and Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares urged contemplation of Damien’s exemplary life to her constituents. 

The actual ceremonies were held inside St. Peter’s Basilica, perhaps a change due to the thunder storm the previous morning.  But we were able to see and hear those goings on via the Jumbotron.

It was especially moving to see men and women of the cloth from all over the world.  The men had white collars in common but came in all colors, shapes, sizes and ages.  Franciscans in long robes and sandals, more formal collars paired with black  jackets of all fabrics, shaved head monks, and Jesus wannabes.

The nuns had more flexibility as their dress varied from plain layclothes and sensible shoes to habits of brown,gray, black and Mother Teresa blue.

One impressively-dressed group was a group of Hiroshima survivors advocating for peace.

Were we to close our eyes, the chorus of unseen cherubs singing hymns filled our heads with the glory of the four men and one woman being honored.  And the narrators for each language must have been selected for the purity of their voices.  The murmur of the crowd was respectful, crying babies were easily pacified and emergency sirens numbered two or three.

We kept our eyes open for other Hawai’i people. We knew the patients of Kalaupapa must be inside with their kokua, kauka and Audrey Toguchi , a retired school teafcher whose miraculous recovery from cancer elevated Damien to sainthood eligibility. 

But we also spotted Hawaiian flags, paper lei, aloha shirts and found some of the hundreds of local celebrants. (See Kalei’s photos of flags and stuff.)  There was no agreed upon Hawai’i dress, but dozens of men wore the Reyn Spooner Damien print aloha shirt, and other small groups were wearing Hawai’i-produced t-shirts.  had a chance to say hello to Uncle Fred Kamaka who was wearing,of course, his signature ‘ukulele print aloha shirt.

The halau hula, under the direction of kumu hula Leimomi Ho, stood out in white holoku, green silk lei and similar green flowers in their hair.  We watched the doubletakes they got as they flowed through the crowd; halau members now grace the photo albums of people from all over the world.  My cousins Vicky Achong DeSilva and her daughter Tiffany Kulani DeSilva were beautiful.

Initially emotional when Damien’s name, usually pronounced dah-mee-AHN, was first heard, the mutual understanding that something good was about to happen to some really good people filled the air with joy.

One of the first things Pope Benedict XVI recited was the church’s genealogy:  all the saints (although I’m thinking surely not all, as the saint index lists hundreds) and then all the popes.  As other holy men shared the pieces of the religious ceremony, it was Benedict himself who presented each of the lives of the five new saints.  When he finally made his way outside to the piazza where tens of thousands of us waited in the hot sun, the crowd literally went wild.

When all was done, rather than joining the mass exodus, Kalei and I made our way to some of the Hawai’i folks to say hi to family and friends, and then ambled our way 5 blocks or so back to our B&B.  A block from our place, I spotted some other cousins, Joe and Girly Ka’akua.

It is difficult to adequately capture the sentiment of the 3.5 hours of haps without sounding trite, but still suffering sensory overload, we are managing to throw down random thoughts here and will try to weave additonal memories into future anecdotes.  Photos, too, although check our respective Facebook pages for more pics.

Love to all…


Kim Ku’ulei Birnie (c) naleialoha.net

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