Hawaii residents in New York for ‘Father Damien Way’ dedication

Local News

Above: Video of Monday’s ceremony provided by New Evangelized Television.

Several Hawaii residents made the cross-country trip to witness a major moment in honor of Saint Damien.

On Monday, May 11, a portion of a New York City street was dedicated in his name. “Father Damien Way” extends along 33rd Street between First and Second avenues. A special ceremony unveiled the official street sign to the public.

Two Hansen’s disease patients from Kalaupapa, Clarence “Boogie” and Ivy Kahilihiwa, were on hand to witness it. They were accompanied by Srs. Cheryl Wint and Alicia Damien Lau.

“The (other Kalaupapa) patients are excited and want so much to be part of the celebrations in New York City, but for many reasons, they are unable to travel,” Lau said. “Celebration of St. Damien’s Feast Day will take place in Kalaupapa that weekend, and they will be with us in spirit.”

Lau says at the Kahilihiwas’ request, their group will also visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum during their five-day stay.

Hawaiian Airlines donated the couple’s airfare, and their accommodations are being provided by the Diocese of Honolulu and Archdiocese of New York, as well as Flanders House, a diplomatic arm of the Government of Flanders in Belgium, where Damien was born in 1840 as Joseph (Jozef) de Veuster.

Flanders House was instrumental in the co-naming, working with the Archdiocese of New York for more than a year to make it happen. Flanders Minister-President Geert Bourgeois joined Cardinal Timothy Dolan for the May unveiling.

“This is a special moment, not only for Hawaii, not only for Flanders, I think for all people interested in human rights,” Bourgeois said at the ceremony. “(Saint Damien) was, let’s say, an early human rights activist. That’s why we are honoring him and why we try to bring honor to his legacy. That’s what we are doing here and we hope he inspires a lot of people in Flanders, in the States, in Hawaii and all over the world. I want to thank everyone that helped us to realize this and I’m especially grateful to the people of Hawaii.”

While Damien himself never lived there, New York City was chosen for its strong international ties, Polet said, noting that the block itself is in close proximity to Bellevue Hospital, home to the only Hansen’s Disease clinic in the mid-Atlantic region.

A Hawaii State Senate Resolution was delivered by Sen. J. Kalani English, D, Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.

“Saint Damien’s selfless work caring for Hansen’s disease patients in Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai is an inspiration for all of us,” said English. “I was elated to be a part of this celebration recognizing this remarkable man.”

Other events also took place in celebration. At 10 a.m. Monday morning, a mass was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Several dinners were planned, including one in the West Village that was hosted by the Gracious Ladies, a New-York-based hula group.

Member Patti Danko spent nearly a month in Hawaii to drum up support and attendance, meeting with government officials, members of the Catholic community and residents.

“The Hawaiian people get it. Protect, honor and love what has been given. This can be related back to the unconditional love, the Aloha spirit, that was shown everyday by Fr. Damien,” she said.

Donations are being accepted by the Diocese of Honolulu to support the Kahilihiwas’ trip.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Hawaii, Diocese of Honolulu, Attention: Finance Office, 1184 Bishop Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.

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