During spring break, eight students from Chaminade made a pilgrimage to Kalaupapa, Molokai to walk in the footsteps of Father Damien de Veuster, SS. CC. and Mother Marianne Cope and see the world through their eyes. Father Damien, known as “the apostle of the lepers,” and Mother Marianne, known as the “mother of outcasts,” were canonized for their work at Kalaupapa’s leper colony. Located on the northern peninsula of Molokai, isolated Kalaupapa has long been associated with Saint Damien (Contemplative Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary) and Saint Marianne (Sisters of Saint Francis).
The Chaminade students were eager to connect with both saints.
“I wanted to immerse myself into my culture and gain a stronger appreciation for the islands and learn about the leprosy settlement on Kalaupapa. I wanted to walk where Father Damien and Mother Marianne walked and served,” said Karinna Himan, a junior majoring in Criminal Justice.
Kimberly Rose Aguada, a first-year student at Chaminade and an alumna of Damien Memorial High School, revealed, “When I first learned about Saint Damien, I decided to model my life after him – to always act courageously and faithfully.” Aguada is studying to be a nurse making Saint Marianne also significant to her.
Flying in on a small plane with all their belongings and supplies, the students spent March 18-21 in one of the most beautiful places on earth and yet, at one time in history, one of the saddest places on earth.
“The most memorable part of this trip for me was that for so long, Kalaupapa was known to be a place of sorrow and hardship,” said Yaron Fernando, a Criminal Justice major with a Forensic Sciences minor who will graduate in 2019. “Now it is a place where people can feel joy and compassion in the heart and learn to appreciate the beauty that God has created.”
This was the second time that Chaminade’s Campus Ministry offered the Kalaupapa Pilgrimage to its day undergraduate students. Chaminade Campus Ministry director Daniel O’Regan took his first Chaminade group there in 2013. He noted the powerful impact that this pilgrimage had on students’ spiritual growth. “It’s a way to connect with the earth, God, and be inspired by the history and people living in Kalaupapa, as well as allow the natural beauty of the island to speak to us of the grandeur of God’s goodness,” he said.
Aguada recalled one of the most memorable parts of the pilgrimage for her. “We hiked up a trail and at the top was a giant white cross. It overlooked the entire settlement and a beautiful valley. When I sat under the cross, I heard the wind blowing through the trees. It was almost as if God was speaking. I remember just sitting there and feeling at peace. I truly felt like He was there with me. It still gives me chills,” Aguada said.
From Ohio, Shea Smith, who will graduate in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a minor in Criminal Justice, found the pilgrimage serene and meaningful. “I walked around by myself to reflect and focus on my spiritual side. Nature for me is calming, and it helps me see God. The beauty of the earth helps me see the beauty in my life that God has given me. This trip allowed me to realize just how grateful I am for my life,” Smith said. “I remember sitting on the pier looking at the crystal clear water and watching these colorful fish swimming around. I don’t see fish like that in Ohio, and when I see them here, I thought it was so amazing. It was another peaceful moment for me that I will always remember. It was relaxing, and it made me happy seeing them swim around and flow with the current. That moment was God talking to me, making me smile and helping me to remember that He is always with me and that I have so much to be grateful for in my life.”
The students had no set schedules, no agendas, and no phone signals as they shook off the stress of school. “As you visit the place, you realize that you are trying to move away from the insanity of our life filled with agendas, timelines, and meetings,” said O’Regan. “In Kalaupapa, you need to have the courage and confidence to go with the flow. There was downtime to visit the sacred historical sites, hike, visit the locals and even get in a game of volleyball. There was time to reflect under a full night sky of stars, but everything was done by feeling the moment and doing what was right. That is something Kalaupapa teaches you.”
Himan noted how grateful the residents were. “They don’t need to have the most glamorous things to be happy. They enjoy the simple things in life and truly love and care about their Kalaupapa. Knowing the history of this place with the positivity of the people and its patients, it’s easy to forget the sad history of this settlement, which some have described as a giant graveyard.”
Once back on Oahu, Himan missed Kalaupapa intensely. “On our last night, we listened to locals have a jam session and just talked story with them. One of the less-than-a-dozen leprosy patients still there told us his experience of being at the settlement. The man described Kalaupapa better than I ever could and told us ‘one day we all going die, but I’m not worried because I already live in Heaven.’”
The value of family spirit and being able to experience the pilgrimage with each other stood out in the students’ memories. “The people I went with became family, the place felt like home, and I will never forget the memories we’ve made. If anyone wants to experience a serenity that’s absent on our busy island, make new friends, and truly connect with God, I suggest that they apply for this opportunity the next time it’s available,” Aguada said.
Campus Ministry aims to provide students with the best spiritual support during their time at Chaminade University and offers abundant opportunities to nurture spiritual growth. Though Chaminade is a Marianist Catholic Institution, Campus Ministry welcomes and serves people of all faiths and traditions.