Superintendent Stephen Prokop is traveling to the Vatican to represent the National Park Service along with a delegation of former Hansen's disease patients to attend the canonization of Father Damien as a saint by Pope Benedict on October 11th.
Father Damien is famous throughout the world for his dedication and devotion to caring for the spiritual and physical needs of victims of leprosy (now referred to as Hansen’s disease) who were separated from their families from 1866 to 1969 on the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Moloka`i. Kalaupapa National Historical Park was created in 1980 in part to honor and remember the legacy of Father Damien and those he served in the midst of suffering, and often times, the triumph of the human spirit over great adversity. Kalaupapa National Historical Park will soon become the only known NPS site associated with a saint.
The story of Father Damien is a major interpretive theme at Kalaupapa NHP that provides education and inspiration to present and future generations of visitors. The upcoming canonization of Damien is an important historical and cultural event in the lives of the remaining former patient residents that have long sought to honor and cherish his legacy. The park’s enabling legislation directs park management to preserve and maintain local cultural values in addition to providing for a well-maintained community for the residents of Kalaupapa. Several resident park employees who have developed strong bonds with Kalaupapa’s respected kupuna (elders) are also making the journey to the Vatican.
Superintendent Prokop, State Department of Health and NPS employees, and Hawai`i’s Catholic Bishop Larry Silva will join the delegation of Kalaupapa residents for special events and other activities before and after the canonization at the Vatican, including a visit to Damien's home town of Tremelo, Belgium and Louvain, Belgium where Damien attended seminary school. Shortly after the group’s return to Kalaupapa, park staff will organize a local celebration on November 7th during which 300 invited guests will join the community in honor of Damien’s Sainthood. The celebration will include a special mass at St. Philomena Church in Kalawao as well as a festive luau with hula performances and live Hawaiian music.