Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hawaiians hope to give pope painting of Damien by paralyzed artist

Kimi Chun, daughter-in-law of artist Peggy Chun, stands in the Peggy Chun Gallery in Honolulu with one of the late artist's last works, "Father Damien of Molokai," created in collaboration with Catholic school students. (CNS/Anna Weaver, Hawaii Catholic Herald)

By Anna Weaver
Catholic News Service

HONOLULU (CNS) -- A large and colorful painting, made by a paralyzed artist working with Catholic school students and depicting Blessed Damien de Veuster, is headed to Rome where students and teachers hope to present it to the pope at his Oct. 14 general audience.

On Oct. 11 Pope Benedict XVI is canonizing the Belgian-born missionary priest along with four others.

The 8-foot-by-4-foot "Father Damien of Molokai" was one of the final artistic efforts of Hawaiian painter Peggy Chun, who died last November of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Chun had wanted to do a large painting of Blessed Damien since 2002. But when ALS slowly paralyzed her body, it didn't seem possible.

To see her vision realized, Chun got the help of students at Holy Trinity School in Kuliouou in 2007. "They just got it," said Kimi Chun, Chun's daughter-in-law, of the students. "You could tell this project helped them feel so connected to her."

After her total paralysis, Peggy Chun could only move her eyes and used them to point at different letters and numbers on a "spell board" to form words and sentences. In that way she dictated color formulas to the Holy Trinity youngsters who painted 50,000 half-inch paper squares, mosaic pieces for the portrait.

When most of the pieces were painted, a Polish artist and friend of Chun, Magdalena Hawajska, stepped in, following Chun's carefully detailed instructions.

The piece incorporates Hawajska's restoration of Chun's watercolor painting "Molokai" blended with an interpretation of Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" that lightens into a blazing sunrise. Father Damien is depicted holding an outstretched hand, an imprint of Peggy Chun's own hand, and he is surrounded by dozens of other handprints. The entire sky and parts of the Molokai coastline are formed from the students' mosaic pieces.

"It was almost like Peggy went into Madga's body and took it over," Kimi Chun told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Honolulu Diocese.

"Father Damien of Molokai" was unveiled at the Hawaii state capitol March 14, 2008.

Before she died, Peggy Chun asked that the completed artwork be given to Pope Benedict XVI during Blessed Damien's canonization events in Rome. Kimi Chun said her mother-in-law was known for her generosity and would give away everything from a painting to her own scarf if someone told her they liked it.

See also:

From the Maui News, "THE CANONIZATION OF FATHER DAMIEN: October 11, 2009"

From the Honolulu Advertiser, "Hawaii pilgrims visit Damien tomb"

From Zenit, "A Miracle for the Apostle of the Lepers"

From CNA, "Hawaii pilgrims visit Damien tomb" and "Leprosy patients from Hawaii to see canonization of Fr. Damien"


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