Up a tree in Kalaupapa

We had enjoyed a simple lunch of chicken, potato, and mixed vegetables topped off by a strawberry in chocolate pudding dessert created by my brother priest, Father Pankras Kareng SS.CC., from Indonesia. Sometime later I noticed that he had disappeared. So concerned that he might have wandered off and gotten into some kind of mischief, I went outside and looked around but he was nowhere in sight. Then I walked to the rear of the house and called out, “Are you up there?” Immediately a voice came from the direction of the avocado tree which called back, “Yes I am!” Sure enough, when I approached the tree, I sensed some movement at the very top of the tree and there he was like a mountain lion, snatching some large-sized avocados. I held my breath while he moved from tree limb to tree limb fearing that he might slip, fall, and break his — avocados. Yet there was no real need for concern because, barefoot as he was, he moved about like a big puma and soon had dropped two bags worth of avocados into my waiting paws.

Father Pankras is one of our Indonesian brother priests currently serving in Rome as a counselor to our superior general. He had come to visit Kalaupapa in order to walk in the footsteps of St. Damien and St. Marianne, to experience their spirit — and to take along two bags of avocados. Earlier that day we had visited the former settlement in Kalawao and celebrated Mass at St. Damien’s altar in St. Philomena Church. On the way back to Kalaupapa Town we climbed the short trail to the Kauhako crater. It may indeed be a short trail but by the time we had reached the lip of the crater, I was short of breath while the Indonesian “puma” hardly broke a sweat. Of course this climb is part of the pilgrimage. At this point let me compliment Richard Miller on the beautiful restoration work he has done on the graves and tombs at Kauhako crater. The view of his work made the climb even more fulfilling.

That evening Father Pankras had the happy experience of joining us in our church hall for the celebration of Meli Watanuki’s birthday. Earlier that same week Clare, who was in the process of organizing this party, asked me if I had a key for the hall kitchen. I said, “No!” Like St. Peter, Meli is the keeper of that particular key and we wished to surprise her with her party. So we were in a bit of a quandary so to speak; up a tree if you will. So it was decided that a screen be removed from the kitchen door and entry accessed that way. Evidently I’m not the only one who enters through windows in this settlement! Meli was absolutely surprised by her party and we all enjoyed the food and good time. That’s how it is here in Kalaupapa. Sometimes we may find ourselves in a bit of a quandary (or up a tree), but we always end up on terra firma


Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.

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