It was a tremendous honor to be a part of the street naming celebration of Father Damien Way in New York City. Father Damien, the 19th-century Roman Catholic Priest from Belgium, is recognized for his work with Hansen’s disease patients in Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi. If you do not believe in small miracles, I found a free parking spot on the street just three blocks from the venue! That is divine intervention.
The ceremony was held at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in front of an audience of more than 250 people. To close the prayer service, Claudia Goddard and I proudly performed the song “Eia a‘e o Damiana” originally sung to Father Damien by the boys of Kalawao, around 1879-1880’s.
The minister-president of the Government of Flanders Geert Bourgeois and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, were among the dignitaries in attendance along with Sacred Hearts Father Lane Akiona, pastor of St. Augustine Church in Waikiki, New York City council member Rosie Mendez, the New York State deputy secretary for civil rights Patricia Gatling, and Ellen Agler, CEO of The End Fund, a non-governmental organization specializing in neglected infectious diseases. Attending from Hawaii were Kalaupapa residents Clarence “Boogie” and Ivy Kahilihiwa, Sister Cheryl Wint, Sister Alicia Damien Lau, and Senator J. Kalani English.
Other events celebrating the street naming included a performance of Aldyth Morris’ one-man play “Damien” by Maui actor Vinnie Linares May 10 at the WestBeth Center for the Arts and a Father Damien Celebration Dinner with Flanders minister-president Bourgeois and Cardinal Dolan at the Metropolitan Club of New York. The gala dinner was an amazing experience with Hawaiian musicians (Claudia Goddard, Chris Davis and me) performing together with a stellar Belgian jazz duo, Bart Platteau and Perrin Grace.