Hawaii leprosy settlement faces sainthood dilemma

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In a state known for bustling, exciting tourist destinations such as Waikiki and the Kilauea volcano, Kalaupapa is sacred ground, with a history of disease, suffering and isolation.

Some 8,000 people have died on this remote peninsula since the Hawaiian Kingdom started exiling leprosy patients here in 1866. Many were torn from their families and left to scrounge for shelter, clothes and food. The vast majority were buried in unmarked graves.

Today, visitor interest in Kalaupapa, on the northern edge of Molokai island, is growing. And it will likely increase when the Vatican proclaims Father Damien — the 19th century priest who cared for the leprosy patients — a saint, most likely late next year.

The two dozen patients still living here are eager to celebrate Kalaupapa's most famous resident, a selfless man who cared for leprosy patients when many others shunned them. They would welcome pilgrims at Damien's church and grave.

But therein lies a dilemma. The patients and their supporters also don't want throngs of tourists disturbing the community's privacy and desecrating the land.

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