Last Sunday our family attended a very unusual third Sunday of Advent which coincided with the celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – patron of the Americas - at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church- on one of the most paradisaical islands on the planet: Maui, or the Valley Isle. Maui is the second-largest island in the Hawaii Chain at 728.8 square miles. This volcanic island was formed after the eruptions of two volcanoes: Pu'u Kukui, now extinct, that created its Western wing and the mighty Haleakala – currently dormant – that created its eastern wing. The two landmasses were later connected by an isthmus created by matter eroded from the inner slopes of the two volcanoes. In Hawaiian Maui is known as "No Ka Oi" or simply, "the best." When people think of the Valley Isle, or the other Hawaiian islands, the first things that come to mind are the exotic natural wonders, and the boundless recreational pursuits that can be enjoyed in the endless natural settings with over a 100 micro-climates. This is literally paradise, sought out by vacationers from around the world. The American writer Marc Twain once said of the Valley Isle:
I went to Maui to stay for a week, and remained five. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any other place goodbye so regretfully.
Frankly speaking, Sunday Mass and the idea of going to church would not usually figure on the top 10 list of activities of vacationers in general or even people who are here on Christian holidays, such as Christmas, for example, in spite of the colourfully adorned streets and buildings. But the Catholic Church's doors are always open and Masses are ongoing. Those who enter this sacred space can "taste and see the goodness of God."
You'd be surprised at the number of Catholic churches there are on the Valley Isle and in Hawaii State. "On Maui alone there are 10 parishes but there are 14 Catholic Churches scattered all over," said Father Gary Colton, pastor of Maria Lanakila Catholic Church, or Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church -- the first parish on Maui. Established in 1846 by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the church started in open air and under thatched roofs. The abode church of Maria Lanakila is known as the "Cradle of the Catholic faith on Maui". It was built in the Royal Capital of Lahaina. Maui, is quite familiar with sainthood as are the other Hawaiian islands. Even since it was a still a Kingdom Hawaii was also known for its Catholic Saints: Saint Damian de Veuster, the Dutch Roman Catholic missionary. (The Holy Father happened to mention him this same Sunday for having "consecrated his life to serve the lepers" as an example to follow in changing the world through good deeds following the paradigm of Jesus Christ.)
So, here we are in dreamland, away from the usual daily hustle and bustle. You would think: "What more can you need or ask for?" Spiritual fuel, I say, right from the source. That which makes the flavours of life burst and give it meaning. The feeling of replenishment and bliss you experience when in vacation mode whilst being in your favorite escape is exponentially amplified by the inner peace that fills your heart when you venture into the sacred mode as Church. It is then that you feel that you are in communion with your family, friends, colleagues at work, and with all the faithful across the globe gathered around the Lord's table to give thanks. When time came to say the Lord's prayer I thought for a duration of a blink that I am just a prayer away from everyone I know. This is what "united in prayer" means to me.
As soon as we set foot in the Maria Lanakila Church, the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Canadian flag that was part of the numerous flags framing it, caught our attention. Although the flags were meant as a reminder of the the nations of the Americas, diversity is an important characteristic of this church. People from across the the Americas - including Canadians - and from around the globe were gathered with the natives in prayer.
"Where would we be without Jesus? I can't imagine where I would be and I don't want to do so," said Father Colton during his homily. "Rejoice in the Lord, be patient if you want Christ's peace, and be a messenger for Jesus" were the main message of Father Colton's homily. He was all covered in rose with a beautiful rose lei (usually a flagrant flower garland or a permanent lei made of feathers, ivory, beads, and even teeth, that mark any important event in person's life; there are leis of love, grief, marriage, birthing, and religious ceremony, to name but a few.)
Father Colton is currently pastor of Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina, was born in Hawaii and has lived here all his life. This is his 5th year of service at Maria Lanakila Church. "Everybody comes together on Sunday we just have a wonderful time, especially at Thanksgiving time, everybody is in the same place" he said. The 5:30pm Mass we attended was the seventh Mass to be celebrated in the church that day on this magical island! "Sometimes during Holidays (like Christmas), visitors who are on Holiday "are half the congregation. So we are happy that you have come here from Canada" he said.
Father Colton invited everyone to "pray for peace and justice, especially on this Sunday, and let's pray so that we can all be part of working for peace and justice." The parish is very active and the Catholic community very vibrant and friendly. Among the many activities, specific attention is given to youth. Ten young Catholic parishioners will attend the 2011 World Youth Day. And this Advent, Father Colton even sends a special blessing and an exotic greeting to Canadians: "ALOHA CANADA!" he said with a big smile on his face, and "To all the Canadian Catholics, ALOHA from Hawaii and I wish you all the best, all God's blessings, especially at Christmas time."
From our family to yours: ALOHA Maui! ALOHA Salt + Light! ALOHA to all in Canada and around the world! From the Valley Isle we send best wishes to you and your loved ones for a Mele Kalikimaka and Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!
or a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!