VATICAN CITY – The Vatican announced that final approval would be given on Feb 21 for the canonisation of Blessed Damien de Veuster (photo), a Belgian-born missionary priest who served patients with Hansen’s disease on the Hawaiian island of Molokai more than a century ago.

Pope Benedict XVI authorised the publication of a decree recognising a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Damien last July, clearing the way for his canonisation.

The Vatican said on Feb 16 that an “ordinary public consistory” – a meeting of the pope with cardinals resident in Rome and invited bishops and other dignitaries – would be held on Feb 21 to finalise the approval of 10 canonisations, including Blessed Damien’s.

The dates for the canonisation ceremonies are expected to be announced shortly after the consistory.

Blessed Damien was a 19th-century missionary, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the same congregation that serves Blessed Sacrament Church in Queenstown. Born in 1840, he spent the last 16 years of his life caring for patients with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, on Molokai.

Blessed Damien died in 1889 and was beatified in 1995.

The miracle attributed to Blessed Damien involves the 1999 healing of Audrey Horner Toguchi, a Hawaiian who had been diagnosed with cancer. She had a tumour and other tissue removed and underwent radiation; when new tumours were found on her lungs, she decided to pray to Blessed Damien instead of undergoing the chemotherapy her doctors recommended. The lung tumours gradually shrunk and disappeared altogether.

In his message for World Leprosy Day 2009, Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan called Blessed Damien “a lighthouse of faith and love”.

Cardinal Lozano, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, said the soon-to-be saint is “the symbol of all those consecrated to Christ with religious vows who still today dedicate their lives to such people” as those struck with Hansen’s disease.

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