Considering all that Hawaii has to offer, tours of Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the island of Molokai seem a little, well, gloomy. Now more than twenty-five years old, the park is dedicated to preserving the memories and experiences of the past.
The park’s mission is to provide a well-maintained community to ensure that the present resident patients of the Kalaupapa Settlement may live out their lives there. The park also supports the education of present and future generations concerning Hansen’s disease or leprosy, a disease shrouded in fear and ignorance for centuries.
Suddenly, visitor interest in Kalaupapa, on the northern edge of the island, is surging. And it will likely continue to increase when the Vatican proclaims Father Damien — the 19th century priest who cared for the Hansen’s disease patients — a saint, most likely late next year. (Hansen’s disease has been curable since the development of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, and people treated with drugs aren’t contagious.)
Two dozen patients still live at the settlement, and they are anxious to celebrate Kalaupapa’s most famous resident. They would welcome pilgrims at Damien’s church and grave.
On the other hand, they are wary of hordes of tourists interrupting the settlement’s serenity and desecrating the land.
Kalaupapa’s attraction for tourists comes from the story behind the Vatican’s recognition of a miracle attributed to Damien, who died in 1889 after contracting Hansen’s disease himself. An 80-year-old Catholic woman from Oahu visited Kalaupapa a decade ago and prayed at Damien’s grave after learning she had terminal cancer. In less than a year, the cancer had vanished.
This summer, Pope Benedict XVI ruled that Damien had intervened since there was no scientific explanation for her recovery.
Visitors are limited to 100 per day, and Kalaupapa can be reached only by light aircraft, mule ride or a hike of an hour or two.
If you’d like to learn more, ask one of the agents at our Web site Hawaii-aloha.com or call 1-800-843-8771.