Pilgrims yearn to visit isolated peninsula where Catholic saints cared for Hawaii’s leprosy patients

Meli Watanuki talks about praying to the Catholic Saints, Father Damien and Mother Marianne, while sitting on her porch , July 19, 2023, in Kalaupapa, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

Flags blow in the breeze at the grave of Father Damien outside St. Philomena Church on Kalaupapa, Hawaii, on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. Damien was canonized a Catholic saint in 2009 for his work taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of leprosy patients in the 1800s. His body was moved to his home country of Belgium in 1936. Only the priest’s hand remains, which was reburied at the site in 1995. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

KALAUPAPA, Hawaii — Kalaupapa beckoned to Kyong Son Toyofuku. She had long prayed to visit the hard-to-reach Hawaiian peninsula, trapped by its deep-green, sheer sea cliffs and rugged, black rock shores that glisten under the Pacific’s pristine waters.