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KALAUPAPA (UPDATED) Feb-23-2009 (700 words) With photos and map posted Feb. 20. xxxn

Park service planning for future of community served by Blessed Damien

By Patrick Downes
Catholic News Service

KALAUPAPA, Hawaii (CNS) -- The National Park Service has begun a process that will determine the future of Kalaupapa as the most important chapter in its history slowly comes to an end.

As a community for Hansen's disease patients, its designation for more than 140 years, Kalaupapa will close when the last patient dies.

Currently it is home to about 25 patients, the youngest nearly 70 years old. By an agreement with the state of Hawaii, they are free to stay there for the rest of their lives

Once the patients are gone, the U.S. national park it has been since 1980 will continue. The question is: What kind of place will it be then?

The role of the Catholic Church, which has had a high profile in Kalaupapa since Father Damien de Veuster landed there in 1873, is likely to change in the process.

The peninsula has one Catholic parish with two Catholic churches. It has a residence for the Catholic pastor and a convent for the Sisters of St. Francis, currently the home of one nun who is a nurse at the hospital. Kalaupapa also has the original graves for Blessed Damien and Blessed Marianne Cope, although their bodies were moved years later to more accessible sites in Belgium and New York, respectively.

But the church owns no Kalaupapa land, and the Diocese of Honolulu would have little reason to maintain a parish once there are no patients as parishioners. Nothing, however, can take away the peninsula's historic and spiritual value as a pilgrimage destination, and Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu has actively promoted that use.

The National Park Service has the lease on the property for about 30 more years. The present planning process will determine the park's purpose and identity for the next 20 years, with a "shorter-term component" for the protection of the rights and welfare of the remaining residents.

Veteran park service planner Anna Tamura of Seattle, who is heading the project, recently began laying the groundwork for a four-year process to create a general management plan. She said the formal process will begin with a series of 12 to 15 public meetings in the last two weeks in April, on four or five major islands.

"What is your vision concerning the future of the site?" will be the question, Tamura said.

The planning team is mostly made up of national park personnel, including Stephen Prokop, the superintendent of Kalaupapa National Historical Park, the park's official title. The team also includes two Kalaupapa residents.

The final decision on Kalaupapa's future as a national park lies with the director of the parks' Pacific West region, Jon Jarvis of Oakland, Calif.

Other U.S. national parks preserve historic places of human injustice or tragedy, such as Manzanar National Historic Site in California, where the U.S. government interned Japanese-Americans during World War II, and Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, the site of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War.

But Kalaupapa alone has a living community to protect.

The churches and grave sites on Kalaupapa remain the primary spiritual attractions. St. Philomena Church in Kalawao was mostly built by Father Damien himself. After his beatification in 1995, a first-class relic, the remains of his right hand, was reinterred in his original grave. His canonization, scheduled for Oct. 11 at the Vatican, will likely attract more visitors.

The park service has begun a renovation of St. Philomena, which has severe peeling of its paint and other environmental damage.

According to Prokop, the general purpose of the national park is "to preserve and protect the human resources, the natural resources and the cultural resources."

The park service pours $4 million a year into Kalaupapa to pay for operations, Prokop said. Another $1 million a year comes in for historic preservation and other purposes.

The superintendent sees the planning process as a "very positive opportunity."

Prokop said he knew the future of Kalaupapa would be a big part of his agenda when he arrived as superintendent a year ago. "I believe everyone wants to protect this special place," he said.


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