Monday, May 05, 2008

Coming Soon: Saint of Molokai

This Saturday marks the feast of Bl Damien deVeuster, the Belgian missionary who spent 16 years ministering to the leper community on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, dying of the disease in 1889 aged 49.

Beatified in 1995, it's been announced that the "Hero of Molokai" -- also the patron of HIV/AIDS sufferers -- has cleared the miracle necessary for his canonization:
A panel of Vatican theologians said yesterday that an Oahu woman's spontaneous cure from cancer was a miracle, linked to her prayers to Father Damien De Veuster.

The opinion brought the Catholic Church close to the final step of declaring the 19th-century priest, who ministered to leprosy patients at Kalaupapa, a saint. The cure, which was documented in the Hawaii Medical Journal in October 2000, was scrutinized earlier by a panel of Vatican medical consultants.

The announcement finally put Audrey Toguchi in the spotlight. She was identified by Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva when he announced the news on the local church Web page yesterday. Until then, her identity had been shielded by her doctor and church officials.

"Whenever I need help, I put everything in God's hands," said Toguchi, 79, of Aiea. "I just talk to him in my own words. I tell him, 'Here, Lord, help.' And I say thank you."

"I pray every single day," said the slight, soft-spoken grandmother. She retired in 1995 as an Aiea High School social studies teacher after 44 years of teaching in public schools.

"There is nothing spectacular about my life," Toguchi said. She said she lives a family-oriented life, in a modest home surrounded by spectacular flowers and plants, the work of her husband, Yukio, also a retired teacher. They travel whenever possible to visit their sons in Kona and Spokane, Wash., and three grandchildren.

When she became ill in 1997, with a lump on her left thigh that turned out to be cancer, Toguchi asked her sisters Beverly Plunkett and Velma Horner to go with her to Kalaupapa, to pray at Father Damien's grave. "I prayed that he would ask God to heal me."

After surgery in January 1998, Dr. Walter Chang told her that the rare form of cancer, liposarcoma, had spread to both lungs. "He said, 'I cannot do anything for you. No surgery is possible.'"

She continued: "I went back to Kalaupapa. I went to Mass and received Communion and then I went to Damien's grave. I said, 'Please, ask God to cure this cancer.'

"Doctor Chang took pictures of my lungs and every month, it was less and less until after four months, the cancer was gone. He was flabbergasted."

Toguchi said: "I didn't tell anybody about it. It's important to be humble."

Her family knew, of course, but "the subject doesn't come up," she said. "Life just goes on and you take care of your family."

Toguchi wrote to the late Pope John Paul II about her cure, setting in motion a process by which the Catholic Church determines if a person is worthy of sainthood. The cause requires a second miracle. The first miracle attributed to Damien was the spontaneous recovery of a terminally ill French nun in 1895, and he was declared "blessed" in 1995.

Toguchi's life, faith and medical history were scrutinized by church authorities. She was interviewed by a local panel and by Monsignor Robert Sarno from the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It was Sarno who notified her by e-mail yesterday that the theological officials agreed that it was a miracle.
Keep in mind, however, that two steps remain before Damien can be formally raised to the honors of the altar: first, the case-work and its conclusion must be approved by the cardinals and bishops who form the membership of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, then the approval of the "decree" of the miracle by Pope Benedict in a private audience to the dicastery's prefect.

As previously noted, canonization is likewise being sought for the "Leper Priest's" longtime collaborator and eventual successor as the island's lead caretaker: the German-born New Yorker Mother Marianne Cope, who was beatified in 2005.