by Sister Barbara Jean Wajda OFS
Most recently the guidelines for visitors to Kalaupapa excluded groups of more than four persons per sponsor. At our recent community meeting at Paschoal Hall this week, the number was increased to six. So, it was monumental when two charter planes carrying 12 people landed at the Kalaupapa airport on Friday morning, August 12, 2022. It seemed like our pre-Covid days when one or two planes a day would bring in visitors and pilgrims for our two tour companies operating on the peninsula. You might have guessed by now that our visitors were very special…our Governor, David Ige; his wife, Dawn; and members of the Department of Health including Libby Char, the Director of Health for the State of Hawaii and the Mayor of Kalawao County. During the course of the day, it became clear that at least two St. Francis School graduates are proudly serving the health needs of the state. Even one of the pilots, Thomas, had attended St. Francis School. Just to have some new faces to talk story with was a refreshing change for us all.
The group assembled at our humble airport for introductions, a welcoming ritual, the giving of lei and a short cultural explanation to set the tone for appreciating all that Kalaupapa had to offer. After each person decided on the vehicle of transport, except for the Governor and his wife who went with Ken, our administrator for the Department of Health in Kalaupapa, they started on their day-long journey with a stop at our Care Home to visit with the patients. Then it was off to tour the settlement, go out to Kalawao, have a picnic lunch at Judd Park Pavilion and come back to the settlement for a quick stop at the Kalaupapa Store, the most customers we had at one time, ever! Then, off we went to St. Elizabeth Convent and Mother Marianne’s gravesite. Moments of slowing down and peacefulness were shared as the group stopped at the cemetery on the way to the airport and actually took a few minutes to walk the beach, explore the sand, experience the wind and sun, take some pictures and even feel the ocean waters. Then off to the airport we all went. There is something magnetic about coming to Kalaupapa, even for a short visit…people don’t want to leave just yet. It must have been a similar feeling to what Peter experienced at the Transfiguration: “Lord, let us build three tents…” Can’t we stay just a little bit longer?
In times gone by, Queen Lilioukalani visited her people on the peninsula and spoke with them individually to assure them of her support, find out their needs, and make sure they knew she loved them. The visit brought deep joy to all. When Mother Marianne first arrived in Honolulu, Queen Kapiolani visited her to convey her deep appreciation for Mother’s response to the need for care of the Hawaiian people and bonded with Mother as a loving sister. The visit today had many of those same elements of appreciation, making connections, hoping for return visits, searching out needs, immersing in the beauties of the place, brief but cherished moments of silence, letting the sun and wind transport you momentarily to another place. It was a day and time to be cherished and remembered.