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Brotherhood and compassion transform "devil's island," says devotional speaker

Kalaupapa is a peninsula on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. This beautiful area is home to many religious faiths, and includes Protestant, Catholic, Latter-day Saint and Buddhist places of worship. Kaluapapa is also home to a leprosy settlement, and has been for more than 100 years.

The refining challenges of the disease shared by those in the settlement has created a place where “religious denominations and cultural divides dissolve” into a “realm of brotherhood and compassion,” said BYU professor Fred E. Woods, a professor of Church history and doctrine, at Tuesday’s devotional in the Marriott Center.

“In a world made up of thousands of religious varieties, the unconditional love and spirit of acceptance that exist on Kalaupapa truly stand as an example to us all,” Woods said.

The devotional will be rebroadcast Oct. 5 on KBYU-TV at 6 and 11 a.m. and on BYU-TV at 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

More than 8,000 people were forcibly removed to the Kalapuapa settlement from 1866 to 1969. Regarded at first as “a devil’s island, a gateway to hell, worse than prison,” the settlement eventually became known as a place of peace, compassion and love.

“Today [Kalaupapa] is a gateway to heaven. There is a spirituality to the place. All the suffering of those whose blood has touched the land – the effect is so powerful even the rain cannot wash it away,” said Bernard, a former leprosy patient.

Through the efforts of a Catholic priest, Father Damien J. De Veuster, and a Latter-day Saint, Jonathan Hawaii Napela, the settlement was transformed from an island prison into a “gateway to heaven.”

Together the two men mended the religious rivalries and reformed the “decadent moral conditions” they found on the island. “Kalaupapa softened under the strain of the suffering that transpired there,” Woods said.

The influence of these two men and the unconditional love and acceptance they brought to the island remain to this day. “This is our family. I don’t care what religion. That’s how we felt,” said one patient of Kalaupapa. “That’s how we were brought up here in Kalaupapa. Somehow that great love for everybody brought us together.”

Writer: Alexis Plowman

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