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Friday, October 9, 2009

Belgian priest to be canonized

Vatican to canonize Belgian priest who helped Hawaiian lepers

A group from Molokai, Hawaii, visited a statue depicting Father Damien in the garden of his birthplace in Tremelo, Belgium, on Oct. 4.

ROME — Many have long considered Father Damien, a Catholic priest who devoted much of his life to victims of leprosy, a saint.

Sunday, in a ceremony in St. Peter's Square, the Roman Catholic Church will make it official.

Father Damien, who was born in Belgium as Joseph de Veuster, cared for leprosy victims on the remote island of Molokai, Hawaii, from 1873 to 1889 until the disease killed him.

The Catholic Church agreed to elevate him to sainthood last year after concluding thatAiea, Hawaii, resident Audrey Toguchi was cured of terminal lung cancer 11 years ago after she prayed to Father Damien and he interceded on her behalf. The church found there was no medical explanation for the woman's recovery.

Father Damien died in 1889 at the leprosy settlement in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.

Toguchi, who met Pope Benedict XVI during a general audience in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, says she prays to Father Damien every day.

"Father Damien is a very loving man," said the 81-year-old, a retired high school teacher. "As long as you're a human being, he loves you, and all you have to do is ask for help."

Pope Benedict is due to preside over Father Damien's canonization. The late priest was beatified — a step toward sainthood — in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.


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