Return to youth in Kalaupapa

They were waiting for me in the clearing at the foot of the Kalaupapa trail when I drove up in my Paddy Wagon. It had taken these young people and their adult adviser a casual hour-and-a-half to hike from topside Molokai to Kalaupapa. It was obvious that this quintet of teens and their adviser, Edgar Alvarez from St. Damien in Kaunakakai, were excited about their visit to our unique settlement, the land of SS. Damien and Marianne.

Shortly thereafter back at the parish house, I learned that a couple of the girls were members of the farmer’s basketball team who represented Molokai High School so honorably on the court in recent weeks. Now while basketball is my favorite American sport, I hesitated to share with them that, while I played a lot of basketball in my younger years (just a few years ago), the only time I got a bloody nose on the court was when I dared to take on two high school girls. They were as tenacious and as fierce as mountain lions.

After the young people and Alvarez had a chance to unwind a little bit, we set out on the 2.6-mile journey to St. Philomena, the church built by Father Damien in Kalawao. The young people were impressed by the church and enjoyed visiting in this church built by St. Damien during his last months and weeks on this earth. Then it was time for me to share some words on Damien’s leadership and legacy as part of a documentary these daughters and sons of Molokai are making as part of a school project. I hope my hair was in place for the video!

Our next stop was at the landing in Judd Park where several cameras got a thorough workout after which we ate lunch. I’m not sure which they enjoyed most as they were in high spirits. The high spirits continued or perhaps got even higher as we hiked up to the Kauhako crater on the way back to Kalaupapa town. I enjoy taking young people up to the crater (after I ask them not to horse around), but I must confess that there are times when these legs of mine are saying, “Oh no! Not today.”

Someone once said, “The only way to bring back your youth is to take the car keys away from him or her.” Having turned 71 (going on 17) one week prior to the visit by these lively young people from topside Molokai, I can say that Sunday, February 15 was a day that tested my age and restored my youth — as well as my faith in youth. Aloha.

Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.

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