Kalaupapa is a Place of Acceptance and Healing

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Luana Alapa: Trustee Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi

In this time of a modern pandemic, we in these islands have been able to reflect on such as how we take care of Hawaii and each other. COVID-19 has changed these islands and the world. We socialize differently now, proceeding with caution, which is so contrary to Hawaiians who are very social by nature.

Communities and nations respond to global health crises in ways that sometimes surprise us all. Kalaupapa revealed to us how we can better respond to those afflicted with highly contagious life-threatening diseases and government, clergy and health workers all learned from mistakes of how to humanely treat leprosy patients. All which evolved over a century of caring and health management and in some ways, it provided new and innovative methods of coping with a disease that stigmatized those unfortunate enough to have fallen ill.

Photo: Aerial view of Kalaupapa
Aerial view of Kalaupapa. Photo: courtesy

According to the National Park Service archive films of the patients in the 1950s, patients made every effort to live life as fully as possible with activities like drag racing on the airport strip, enjoying a good drink in multiple “water holes,” having activities like dances and such for the patients and more. Encouraging and supporting terminally ill patients to enjoy life in this way was not the standard but more the exception in the context of its time.

Those who visit Kalaupapa today can experience an indescribable calm and peaceful energy found nowhere else in the world. Not only is it a quiet and beautiful location but it serves as a symbol to the world reminding us to be compassionate, tolerant, careful and, most of all, hopeful with our faith and self-acceptance and healing.

Photo: Kalaupapa’s St. Philomena Catholic Church
Kalaupapa’s St. Philomena Catholic Church, originally constructed in 1872, was expanded twice under the leadership of Father Damien who arrived at the settlement in 1873. Photo: Courtesy

Today, people continue to find Kalaupapa as a source of faith. What most people don’t realize is that there are multiple churches in Kalaupapa with Hawaiian Protestant, Church of Latter-Day Saints, and Catholic services available. All faiths helped to bring comfort for those who faced their final fate in this place of beauty and serenity – and today faith services continue every Sunday morning for those who visit.

Mahalo to all the faith organizations and advocates and especially to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature for SB697 signed into law by Gov. Ige as Act 052 designating January as Kalaupapa month.


To experience a virtual tour of Kalaupapa, visit www.nps.gov/kalaupapa.