October 12, 2009 in Nation/World

Priest who worked with lepers among newly elevated saints

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Audrey Toguchi and her doctor, Walter Chang, attend a canonization ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

VATICAN CITY – A 19th-century priest whose courageous work with leprosy patients in Hawaii has been likened to the efforts of those battling the stigma of AIDS was elevated to sainthood Sunday by Pope Benedict XVI, along with four other Catholics he hailed as heroes of holiness.

Among the 10,000 pilgrims packing St. Peter’s Basilica was Hawaii resident Audrey Toguchi, an 80-year-old retired schoolteacher whose recovery from lung cancer a decade ago stunned her doctor and was ruled a miracle by the Vatican.

Toguchi has credited her survival to praying to Belgium-born Jozef De Veuster, also known as Father Damien, who himself died from leprosy in 1889 after contracting the disease while working with ostracized patients living on Molokai island.

Some 40,000 faithful who couldn’t fit inside the vast church filled St. Peter’s Square on a warm, sunny morning. Among the five added to the church’s roll call of saints is French nun Jeanne Jugan, who helped the elderly, including some abandoned by their families. Jugan, also known as Marie de la Croix, was “an authentic Mother Teresa ahead of her time,” Vatican Radio said. Her Little Sisters of the Poor order of nuns today runs homes for impoverished old people worldwide. She died in 1879.

Also becoming a saint was Zygmunt Szcezesny Felinski, a 19th-century Polish bishop who defended the faith during the years of the Russian annexation, which led to the shutdown of Polish churches.

Two Spaniards, Francisco Coll y Guitart, who founded an order of Dominicans in the 19th century, and Rafael Arniaz Baron, who renounced an affluent life at age 22 to live humbly in a strict monastery in the last century, also were raised to sainthood.

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