Nine Boy Scouts and a Scout Master from Hawaii are traveling to the Vatican for the October 11 canonization of Bl. Damien de Veuster, the Belgian missionary who ministered to the Hawaiian leper colony at Molokai and died of leprosy there.
Scout Master John Fielding is organizing the nine scouts’ journey, which they will document via YouTube, Facebook and a blog. They will pass through Fr. Damien’s Belgian hometown before arriving at the Vatican.
Writing to CNA in a Tuesday e-mail, Fielding explained that when he first heard the canonization date for Fr. Damien had been set, he told his wife that it was sad another historic event in the Church’s history would go by “without involving the children (or as we say in Hawai’I, Keiki) of the Church.”
“Then I looked at her and said, ‘You know, why should we regret – we should just make it happen!’” he said.
After seeking and receiving the blessing of Bishop Clarence “Larry” Silva of Honolulu, Fielding sought support from Our Lady of Peace Cathedral’s Knights of Columbus Council #5000, of which he is the Grand Knight.
The Belgian-born Fr. Damien was ordained to the priesthood at the Honolulu cathedral on May 24, 1864. The priest arrived at the Molokai leper colony in May of 1873 and lived and worked there until his death of leprosy on March 28, 1889.
Every schoolchild in Hawaii is aware of Fr. Damien, Fielding told CNA.
“Fr. Damien is not only a symbol of our Church, but he is a hero to the Hawaiian people for his sacrifice,” he explained. “Fr. Damien’s statue is in the front of the Hawaii State Capitol and the U.S. Congress. Damien Memorial High School, where one of our scouts attends, is named in his honor.”
“Even if you are not Catholic, you know of his sacrifice and love for the many Hawaiians left to die there [at Molokai].”
Molokai is “a very popular pilgrimage” site for many Catholics, Fielding reported, though flights to the island of the former leper colony are limited because of its remoteness and because so few tourists go there.
Only those 16 years and older are allowed on the island, he said. Since most of his scouts are just 16 or younger, they have not yet been to Molokai.
During their trip to Europe, which will begin on October 1, the scouts will stay at the Scout Camp Site at Fr. Damien’s birthplace of Tremelo, Belgium. Tremelo itself is preparing a large festivity to honor the priest.
“Their native son of Belgium became our adopted son of Hawaii,” Fielding told CNA. “We will be meeting other scouts from around Europe and sharing with them our mission, as well as joining in on some of their scouting activities.”
He is also trying to arrange special tours at the Vatican through the Knights of Columbus liaison in Rome.
Fielding also revealed how the nine scouts were selected for the journey.
At the Hawaii Scout Jamboree, known as the Makahiki, Fielding evaluated the various troops and approached the first ten which he thought exemplified “the true meaning of Scouting.”
He asked the troops’ Scout Masters to nominate their top Catholic scout for the opportunity. He received 11 names, of whom eight could commit.
The scouts are from all over island of Oahu. Most participate in various ministries in their parish and are altar boys.
Fielding said he also approached the selection process with a “different perspective” and remembered the importance Catholics place on giving a good Catholic education to non-Catholics. When his wife brought up the name of a non-Catholic Christian Boy Scout in his troop, Fielding asked the scout to join and he accepted.
The scouts have earned their journalism badge and will put their skills to use. They will interview attendees of the festivities in Belgium and at the Vatican. They will also film the sights and sounds of the events.
Every day at 9 p.m. local time they will upload their videos so that students will be able to view them at 9 a.m. Hawaii time the same day.
“Children from all over the world will have the opportunity to learn about the event from other kids their age,” he added.
Fielding said he hopes the use of the new media will generate interest in their journey, especially among the younger generation.
“It’s about time good content is on the internet,” he told CNA.
Besides Knights of Columbus Council #5000, supporters of the journey include the Aloha Council of the Boy Scouts as well as the Hawaii Catholic Committee on Scouting.
Clergy and parishioners have been “very supportive,” Fielding told CNA. The group has been to 12 parishes and more than 30 Masses to introduce the boys and seek help fundraising. Present donations total over $14,000.
Scouts have made St. Damien Medallions, hand-knotted rosaries and two types of T-Shirts. One of the shirts bears the international St. Damien Logo, while the other bears official artwork from the Diocese of Honolulu. The items are available for purchase at their website.
The scouts have set up a Facebook account under the name of Damien de Veuster and have set up a YouTube channel named “saintdmienscouts.”
They will also report on their journey at http://stdamienboyscouts.wordpress.com