Priest who lived with leprosy is now a saint
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VATICAN CITY -- A 19th-century priest whose courageous work with leprosy patients in Hawaii has been likened to the efforts of those battling the stigma of AIDS was elevated to sainthood yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI, along with four other Catholics whom he hailed as heroes of holiness.
Among the 10,000 pilgrims packing St. Peter's Basilica was Hawaii resident Audrey Toguchi, an 80-year-old retired school teacher whose recovery from lung cancer a decade ago stunned her doctor and was ruled a miracle by the Vatican.
Ms. Toguchi has credited her survival to praying to Belgium-born Jozef De Veuster, also known as Father Damien, who himself died from leprosy in 1889 after contracting the disease while working with ostracized patients living on Molokai island.
Some 40,000 faithful who couldn't fit inside the vast church filled St. Peter's Square on a warm, sunny morning. Many women from Hawaii wore headpieces made of roses and large beaded necklaces over floral-print loose gowns.
Among the five Pope Benedict added to the church's roll call of saints is French nun Jeanne Jugan, who helped the elderly, including some abandoned by their families. Jugan, also known as Marie de la Croix, was "an authentic Mother Teresa ahead of her time," Vatican Radio said. Her Little Sisters of the Poor order of nuns today runs homes for impoverished old people worldwide. She died in 1879.
The new saints had heeded Jesus' call to "the heroism of sanctity," sacrificing themselves for others without "calculation or personal gain," the pope said.
"Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel," Pope Benedict said in his homily.
Official delegations included King Albert II and Queen Paolo of Belgium; U.S. President Barack Obama's new envoy to the Vatican, Miguel H. Diaz, and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka; Poland's president, France's prime minister and Spain's foreign minister also attended.
Mr. Obama, born and partially reared in Hawaii, said in a message to mark the canonization that he remembers stories about Damien's care for people with leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, and its stigma.
The U.S. leader, noting that millions worldwide suffer from disease, especially HIV/AIDS, urged people to follow Damien's example by "answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick."
Those with leprosy, which can cause disfigurement, had been ostracized for centuries by societies and even families.
"The way leprosy was perceived then is how AIDS is perceived today" by many people, said Gail Miller, a pilgrim from Auburn Hills, Mich.
Also becoming a saint was Zygmunt Szcezesny Felinski, a 19th-century Polish bishop who defended the Catholic faith during the years of the Russian annexation, which had led to the shutdown of Polish churches.
Two Spaniards, Francisco Coll y Guitart, who founded an order of Dominicans in the 19th century, and Rafael Arniaz Baron, who renounced an affluent life at age 22 to live humbly in a strict monastery in the last century, also were raised to sainthood.
First Published October 12, 2009 12:00 am