I was a little tardy getting into the Paddy Wagon because I had been trying to choose which of two shirts to wear to the occasion this morning. Had I been married, that decision would surely have been made last night — at the very latest. Anyway, I opted for the shirt with the red branches, set on a white background. I figured this was acceptable on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
When I arrived at the designated location in Papaloa Cemetery, a large number of Kalaupapa residents, patients and workers as well as visitors had assembled around a canopy that sheltered tables of flowers and tea-leaf leis. We had gathered for our annual blessing of leis, which would subsequently be placed on the many graves throughout the Makanalua peninsula. I breathed a sigh of relief on being on time for the ceremony. It would have been a scandal had the priest arrived on the scene late — with a shirt half on and half off.
After an opening Oli by the young people from the Big Island, Keri and Mickiala spoke about the origin and the purpose of this annual ceremony. Then Nancy and Ken spoke words of welcome. We had the blessing of the leis and 99-year-old John Arruda and 89-year-old Meli Watanuki followed by placing the first leis on adjacent graves. Joined by members of our Kalaupapa community, the members of Hui Malama Makanalua from the Big Island began to fan out and placed leis on the settlement graves. I myself placed a colorful lei on the grave marker of John Santos, the great grandfather of our own Bishop Larry. I hope this action places me in the good books of Bishop Larry Silva!
Back at the ranch, so to speak, I have divested myself of my chosen shirt of the day. I am currently sitting on my chosen easy chair while penning these lines. I hope they will make the print in my favorite publication. The sun is shining on this early Hawaiian summer day and the trade winds are playing in the branches of the palm and plumeria trees. It is good to be alive here in Kalaupapa even as we remember those who have lived and gone before us in the lands of Saints Damien and Marianne. Aloha.
Anchor columnist, Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.