A Miracle for the Apostle of the Lepers

Cure Leads to Father Damien’s Canonization on Sunday

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By Carmen Elena Villa

HONOLULU, Hawaii, OCT. 6, 2009 (Zenit.org).- «No one has survived this cancer. This illness will take you,» said Doctor Walter Chang to Audrey Toguchi in 1997 since, scientifically, there was nothing that could be done for her.
But Toguchi didn’t die from her cancer and her cure turned out to be the decisive miracle for the canonization of Father Damien de Veuster. Father Damien will be canonized this Sunday during a Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square.
Father Damien, also known as the apostle of the lepers, was born in Belgium in 1840. At 33 he went to the island of Molokai, Hawaii, where lepers were sent and lived in isolation.
Depriving himself of everything, the priest stayed there serving, catechizing and administering the sacraments to those who had contracted this disease. He himself contracted it and died in 1899. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1995.
Terminal cancer
In 1996, Audrey Toguchi, native of the Island of Oahu in Hawaii, was 69. «I had no idea I had cancer,» she told ZENIT.
«My husband noticed I had a lump after a fall — I had slipped some days earlier while cleaning the floor of my house. The family doctor said it was a bruise.»
The following year, the bruise had not disappeared, but had grown. After additional exams, a tumor was found in her left thigh. It was malignant cancer.
She underwent surgery a year later, but the cancer had already spread. «It was the surgeon who discovered on removing it that it was a very rare and aggressive terminal cancer,» she explained.
«Other oncologists who studied the case said that nowhere in the world was it recorded that a person survived this type of sickness,» Toguchi continued.
After another examination in September of 1998, the X-rays showed that the cancer had metastasized in her lungs. The doctors gave her three months to live.
Toguchi relates that she felt weak. She did not want any more chemotherapy or medical interventions. But she took up a devotion she had practiced from her childhood, as a good Hawaiian: «I have always loved Father Damien,» Toguchi explained.
«I have prayed to him all my life. That is why I visited Kalawao (where his tomb is located), Molokai and our churches over many years,» she said.

No doubt
In November of 1998, Toguchi began to feel much improved. Medical examinations revealed that the cancer was receding. Six months later, X-rays showed a complete regression of the metastasis, though she had had no therapy. The cancer disappeared entirely.
While for her doctors, there is no explanation — her own doctor, who is not a Catholic, affirms this — for Toguchi there is no doubt that it was the hand of Damien from heaven, interceding before God. Many prayers were said for years, both by her and her relatives, to this blessed apostle.
«When I was completely cured by the Lord’s love and Father Damien’s intercession, I felt very honored and grateful,» she said.
On Oct. 18, 2007, medical experts from the Congregation for Saints’ Causes examined the clinical documents. As is always the case for a canonization, believers and non-believers concluded with moral certitude that the cure was not only exceptional but «extra-natural.»
Then, the Commission of Theologians determined that it was a miracle, obtained by Father Damien’s intercession — an indispensable requisite to receive the title of saint.

Toguchi spoke about how Father Damien’s witness still makes an impression in her village. «He left Belgium when he was very young. He was the pastor of Hawaiians of all religions, because we are all children of God. He learned and respected Hawaiian culture. His person is much venerated among us. Now, after 120 years, he is still much loved here.»
Toguchi today is 82. With white hair and glasses, her face and voice are serene; she is full of vitality. She affirmed that she would certainly be traveling to Rome for the canonization.
She ended her conversation with ZENIT saying that «in 1860, President Lincoln said that God loves ordinary people because he became one of them.»
«I am a very ordinary person,» Toguchi said. «In his compassionate mercy God cured me, and Father Damien, who showed great love for the most rejected of humanity, interceded for me.»

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