Skip to comments.Pope Benedict to receive paralyzed artistís portrait of Fr. Damien
Posted on 10/09/2009 10:34:45 AM PDT by NYer
.- As the October 11 canonization of the Fr. Damien de Veuster approaches, an art teacher is leading a small group from Hawaii to Rome to present Pope Benedict XVI with a portrait of the saint painted by an artist paralyzed by Lou Gehrigs Disease, also known as ALS.
Fr. Damien, a hero to Hawaiians, ministered to a major leper colony on Molokai where he contracted and eventually succumbed to leprosy in the late nineteenth century.
The late artist Peggy Chun had created the artwork with the help of schoolchildren at Holy Trinity School in Honolulu. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had affected her to the point where she could only move her eyes.
Shelly Mecum, an art teacher at the school and a friend of Peggy, spoke with CNA from Rome in a Thursday phone interview about the portrait and its creator.
She described Peggy as an invincible artist who wouldnt let ALS stop her from creating.
When she couldnt paint with her left hand, she used her right. When she couldnt paint with her right, she used her mouth.
According to Mecum, ALS completely entombs its victims.
Thats what Peggy said it felt like, being buried alive in your own body.
Despite her crippling symptoms, which led to her death on Nov. 19, 2008, Peggy used an ERICA eye response computer to communicate. She also used a device that would read her brainwaves.
She was the first brainwave artist on the planet, Mecum told CNA.
Peggy painted her portrait of Fr. Damien, titled The Damien, by directing others. She trained her apprentices in her brushstroke just like Renaissance artists. The work is part painting and part mosaic.
She spent 18 months giving directions week by week to paint the 50,000 quarter-inch squares that would be used in the eight-foot by four-foot painting.
She was assisted by 142 children from Holy Trinity school over a period of 18 months. The students, who ranged in age from 5 to 13, understood themselves as Peggys hands.
Peggy completely composed this painting, Mecum explained, saying she chose the posture of the saint based upon photographs. He is in a posture of blessing and is depicted half in shadow to represent the darkness of faith.
The artist also conceived the idea of placing handprints rising up from below his image as if in supplication.
In the portrait the figure of Bl. Damien is holding the handprint of Peggy herself, while the other handprints are from her family and her caregivers. The island of Molokai is in background.
Mecum explained that Peggy wanted the painting to change from left to right from starry night to the brightness of day to represent the hope that God was extending.
The back of the painting bears 142 handprints by the students in place of their signatures. Mecum added that the children who assisted Peggy put all their healing and all their love into those squares of water paper.
The saint is shown holding a rosary in his hand. Mecum told CNA that the mosaic squares used to depict the rosary were painted in colors that Peggy did not own.
When Mecum told Peggy the squares had just showed up in the classroom, she replied Heaven is painting.
Then we knew we were going to complete this painting, Mecum said.
She really wondered if this painting was planted in her heart when she was a little girl, Mecum said of Peggy, explaining that as a child the future artist saw a mosaic of the saint during a yearlong European tour with her parents.
At that time, it was frozen in her heart and forevermore after that she thought it was such a dignified way to present a saint.
Pope Benedict XVI will be given the painting in an Oct. 14 audience with Mecum, fellow teacher Christine Matsukawa, and two students. The group will also attend the canonization of Fr. Damien.
Mecum credited the Holy Spirit with inspiring the trip. When the schools students wondered what would happen to the painting when it was finished, Matsukawa said out of the blue that it would be given to the Pope.
Mecum then went to Peggy with the idea.
Peggy, would you like the painting to be given to the Pope? she asked.
After a long pause, Peggy started to cry. This caused Mecum to wonder if she did not want to give the painting away.
Then Peggy spelled out in reply the phrase: That would be the greatest honor of my life Yes!
The provincial of Fr. Damiens order said he thought there could be no more magnificent and appropriate gift.
I made a really serious promise that I would bring Peggy and find a way to present her painting to the Pope, Mecum told CNA
Though Peggy died before she could go to Rome, her friends prayers for help in their travels were so soundly answered three weeks after their planning began.
We petitioned the Virgin Mary to secure transportation and tickets, and within weeks we had secured transportation, Mecum said.
Delta Airlines donated tickets, while Best Western provided hotel accommodations.
Mecum reported that Denver-based philanthropist John Saeman, whom she called one of our big heroes, helped secure a papal audience through his contacts with Vatican officials. The audience will take place after Wednesdays General Audience.
Two children, Lorrin Baptista and Mark Giron, were chosen to represent Holy Trinity School.
Lorrin met Peggy, Mecum said, and had to study the courage of Fr. Damien. She was inspired to convert to Catholicism and chose Damien as her patron.
Mark Giron had come to the school after Peggy had died and didnt help with the painting. However, he learned of her work and felt a burning desire to go to Rome.
The two students are really awed to be participating in the audience and the canonization, Mecum told CNA.
Peggy Chuns website, which sells prints of her paintings, is located at http://PeggyChun.com
Sun 10/11/09 4:00 AM ET / 1 AM PT
Sun 10/11/09 12:00 PM ET / 9 AM PT
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I’m not Catholic and I don’t really believe in saints. Still, the man deserves honor far more than what was given him in life. I’m glad to see this was achieved. I’ve been fascinated by all the stories - our local news (Honolulu) is full of them this entire week. I’ve been to Kalaupapa and really been moved by both its rugged beauty and the horrors that occurred there.
Peggy Chun was well known here. Such a tragic loss. Her paintings are truly inspired.
Thanks for posting.
I have loved Father Damien since I read the book ,i.Hawaii,/i. by James Michener, years and years ago. There is a very long and detailed description of the leper colony, and as the Chinese woman who cared for her husband left the colony after he died, Father Damien was getting off the boat.Because of that, I read further about him and his work. I am so happy he will become a saint!
Sorry for the typos and misplaced italics. I really have no idea what I did to get such a garbled mess.
One of the children mentioned, Mark Giron, belongs to my church. He needed a suit for this trip, so we bought him one. He’s so proud to be part of this! The Father Damien canonization is huge news in Hawaii.
Thank you, her paintings are beautiful! What a great story. I’ll have to set my Tivo on EWTN this weekend.
Thank you for sharing that story with us. I plan to rise early on Sunday to watch the canonization and will be looking for the children.
One need not be Catholic to appreciate the extraordinary works of certain individuals, in this case Fr. Damien. In our life, we often select sports stars or scientists, or biologists, etc. who serve as heroes of our times. In the Catholic Church, such an honor goes to those who, by their work, have modeled their lives after our Savior, Jesus Christ. Ironically, while they are alive, it is often the Church that erects obstacles to prevent Catholics from being too attracted to the individual as opposed to God. i am currently reading the life of St. Padre Pio who, like Fr. Damien, was ostracized by his own confreres while alive. It is not until after death that a person's life can be truly evaluated and weighed against the model of Christ. When those whose lives have set this example, the process of canonization may begin.
Peggy Chun was well known here. Such a tragic loss. Her paintings are truly inspired.
There are some truly wonderful Hawaiian artists, many of whom I enjoy. Thank you for the post and ping!
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