ABC News' Jordyn Phelps reports:
In a show of home state pride, the president today honored the life of a Roman Catholic priest from Hawaii who will be declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday.
Blessed Damien de Veuster is remembered for his ministerial work to those affected by leprosy, also known as Hanson’s disease.
“Father Damien challenged the stigmatizing effects of disease, giving voice to the voiceless and ultimately sacrificing his own life to bring dignity to so many,” the president said in a statement.
In ministering to those affected by leprosy, Father Damien contracted the disease himself and died as a result in 1889 at the age of 49.
Father Damien was a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Hawaii, where the president was born and spent many of his childhood years. While Obama did not attend this church, he recalled the positive influence his ministry had on Hawaii.
“I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there to care for those suffering from leprosy who had been cast out,” the president said.
The president said Father Damien’s life should stand as an example for how to deal with modern-day diseases.
“In our own time as millions around the world suffer from disease, especially the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, we should draw on the example of Fr. Damien’s resolve in answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick,” Obama said.
The president also offered his prayers to people of all faiths who join the Catholic Church in celebrating the life of Blessed Damien de Veuster.
President Obama plans to send a delegation to attend Sunday’s ceremony, during which Father Damien will officially receive the title of saint, at the Holy See. The delegation will be led by Miguel Humberto Diaz, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Accompanying Diaz will be Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka; Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J.; the superintendent of Kalaupapa National Historic Park, Stephen Prokop; Bishop of Honolulu Larry Silva, and President of the Catholic Health Association of the United States Sister Carol Ann Keehan.