Hawaii Diocese recognizes Napela-St. Damien collaboration

[Reprinted from a press release I wrote on May 12, 2010]

LAIE, Hawaii — The Most Reverend Clarence “Larry” Silva, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, presented the Polynesian Cultural Center and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii with a special Certificate of Appreciation on May 7, 2010, “in gratitude for the collaboration” of Jonathan Napela and St. Damien of Molokai, for their service to Hansen’s Disease patients at Kalaupapa in the 1870s.

Bishop Silva explained that though the two men belonged to different churches, they worked closely together at the isolated Kalaupapa leprosy or Hansen’s Disease quarantine settlement, and the Catholic priest once described N?pela as his “yoke-mate.” Largely for his work there from 1873-1889, Pope Benedict XVI enrolled Father Damien in the canon of Roman Catholic Saints on October 11, 2009, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

pcc_catholic_plaque5-2010(Left-right): Von D. Orgill, President & CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center; Elder Scott D. Whiting, Latter-day Saint Area
Authority Hawaii; Most Reverend Clarence “Larry” Silva, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu; and Father Marc
Alexander, Vicar General of the diocese. (Photos by Mike Foley)

In presenting the certificate to Von D. Orgill, President & CEO of the Polynesian Cultural Center and Elder Scott D. Whiting, Area Authority Seventy for the Latter-day Saint Church in Hawaii, Bishop Silva said of St. Damien and Napela, “They chose to go where others did not want to go. They went there to serve. They brought hope where there was little hope, and light where there was great darkness; and so, they are our heroes.”

He explained the Catholic Church canonizes worthy individuals “so that they can inspire us, so that they can teach us something about service and the devotion to God that is so important in our lives.”

“Leprosy is not a big disease in our country [the U.S.], but there are leprosies in our culture: Attacks against marriage and the family, attacks against children, the dissolution of our school and educational system…attacks in our home or the leprosy of domestic violence, the leprosy of homelessness and the hungry among us.”

“We are still called to be there, where maybe we would rather not go, where we might be a little more uncomfortable, where we might have to get a little dirty, or beat up ourselves. So, we thank God that He has given us these examples in following people who were so dedicated to God and service to neighbors. Nothing could hold them back from whatever needed to be done.”

St. Damien came to Hawaii from his native Belgium in 1864, and nine years later volunteered to serve at Kalaupapa. Hansen’s disease eventually ravaged him and he died there in 1889 at age 49.

Napela, a traditional Hawaiian ali’i or chief and a magistrate on Maui, was an early convert to the Church who co-translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian with Elder George Q. Cannon, served as a missionary, helped establish mission headquarters in Laie in 1865, and in 1869 went to Utah where he became the first known Hawaiian to receive temple endowments and be ordained a Seventy. When his wife, Kitty, contracted Hansen’s Disease and was ordered confined to Kalaupapa in 1873, he chose to accompany her as a non-patient kokua or helper. Napela also eventually contracted Hansen’s disease and died on August 6, 1879. His wife died a short time later.

On behalf of the Church, Elder Whiting thanked the diocese, and said of Napela and St. Damien, “I can’t help but look at their example of uniting themselves in those difficult circumstances to serve and to help the sufferings of others.” He added the two churches continue “to help the sufferings of others…as we work in areas of common interest, as we help try to ease some of the suffering we see today.”

President Orgill referred to the sacrifices of the two men as “marvelous examples,” and explained that the certificate would be displayed at the Cultural Center’s Hawaii Mission Settlement, a recreated mid-nineteenth century compound that tells the story of how Christianity came to the Polynesian islands of the Pacific.

He also said many of the more than 35 million visitors  who have come to the Polynesian Cultural Center  “really feel the spirit of aloha. It’s our firm belief the spirit of aloha is really the spirit of the Lord that shines through the lives of those who are following our Savior, Jesus Christ, and who are trying their best to live and follow His teachings.”

After accepting the certificate, President Orgill presented Bishop Silva with a hand-carved Hawaiian koa wood paddle, which represents that “we’re all on a journey, and hopefully, we’re much more often paddling together, trying to make good things happen, to preserve if you will the things that are worth preserving, and to share those things with everyone that we know, love, care about and associate with.”

Jonathan Napela also continues to be remembered in Laie where a heroic-sized statue outside the Cannon Activities Center on the Brigham Young University–Hawaii campus recognizes him and Elder George Q. Cannon for their work in translating the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. The school’s Hawaiian Studies program is also named in Napela’s honor.


Representatives from the Polynesian Cultural Center, BYU–Hawaii and Hawaii Reserves, Inc., pose with
Bishop Silva and Father Alexander following the presentation.

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