“Ua ola loko I ke aloha.” - Taniela Tuihalafatai & Giselle Schoenmakers
Aloha! My name is Taniela Tuihalafatai. I am going to be a junior studying Accounting at Chaminade University. Within the past five days, I got to work with incredible people. I am so glad I got the opportunity to come and experience this trip.
We had a reflection last night, asking us if we had a God moment for the day and why we’re thankful for community living. I shared that my God moment for the day was when some of us had the opportunity to listen to a man at the Hippie Kitchen play music with his guitar and flute. I have always seen and felt God through music. I can only imagine how therapeutic it is for him to have music in his life because music works wonders for me whenever I listen to it. For the second question about community, I answered that it was the opportunity to come back together as community at the end of our day. Our discussions and conversations reflecting on our day gave allowed for us to grow in understanding of diverse perspectives.
We were asked to ponder the question…“Who’s spirit did you bring on this trip and why?” My answer came to me immediately. It was and always will be Kamiano or Father Damien. I call him what my people would have called him at the time when he worked in Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on Hawaii’s island of Moloka’i where individuals with or believed to have leprosy was sent to die. Kamiano agreed to do his priesthood in Kalaupapa knowing what awaited him. He saw the condition of the people and was the first to act upon this injustice. He built the people a church, he built them homes, and most importantly, he gave those who died a proper funeral. He saw the people for who they were and not what disease they had, and he treated them as such. I can bring this back and relate it to something we were told when we worked at the Hippie Kitchen. “We are serving people, not food.” Kamiano had no issues with embracing the lepers with open arms. This caused him to contract leprosy, and instead of going back to Belgium for treatment, he chose to stay on the peninsula where he knew he would spend the rest of his life. He died at 48 of the disease but left behind a foundation for the sisters of the sacred hearts to use to take over his ministry and work.
I brought this story up and took it back to a Deep Penetrating Question in Brians’s car. He asked, “How do you become a saint?” I finally had an answer for him. Like Kamiano, who was canonized in 2009, we become saints by giving of ourselves so much that we become equal to or less than those we are trying so hard to help.
From the start of this Immersion, there is a spirit that I think we all brought with us. We cannot see it, but it is burning inside us. If it weren't, we would not even be on this trip. It is the spirit of aloha or a spirit of love. In everything we do, whether we know it or not, we are sharing this vision with people we work with directly or with people who will soon reap the benefits of our service. I am reminded of a Hawaiian saying that sums up the kind of work I feel we did this week so far. “Ua ola loko I ke aloha.” Love gives life within. Our work is pure and full of compassion. It is straight from the heart, and I feel that life and joy will linger and resonate with the people we have been with thus far.
Junior, Chaminade University
As I sit down next to this older man, I try and gradually make conversation. I talked about light topics such as the weather to see if he is willing to make conversation. After I see that he is open to answering my questions, I ask him "where are you from." However, as soon as I asked this question his mood and body language began to shift towards hostility. He exclaimed “ That is my story! Back when I was young, kids respected their elders. There was no asking of these types of questions. That is disrespectful!” As he walked away, I began to reflect upon my experiences on this immersion trip.
The way I have experienced God’s love has always been through helping others. While on this experience I have felt as if every connection I have tried to make has not had that feeling. As I listened to all the great stories the other members my community shared, I couldn’t help but feel as if I didn’t belong on this trip.
Each person I interacted with at skid row had a very negative view of religion. As I talked to one of the other Catholic Worker volunteers, he talked about how involved he was with the church starting at a young age even continuing to teach confirmation classes as an adult. However, as he was telling me why he was helping at the Hippie Kitchen, he made it a point to say "I am not here because of God's teaching but rather because I am just trying to help humanity." I could not see why he did not see how these two things correlated. As I see a man who has been dedicated to the Catholic Church since he was a boy not wanting to associate his good deeds with the teachings of the gospel, God’s love felt even further away from me.
The goal I first made for myself on this trip was to help lift someone’s burden even if just for a small amount of time. I understand that homelessness is not a problem that can be fixed with one week of service and that genuine connection is made over time. I feel like the personal conversations I had at Skid Row were very discouraging and made my goal for the trip seem unlikely. What I hope to learn on this trip is what my vocation should be. I hope that seeing each of these organizations along with interacting with the people in it will help me find what I could do best.
At the end of the night's reflection, I shared my thoughts about my experience. The love and compassion I got from each community member truly made me feel God’s love, something I had been looking for this trip. At first, I felt uncomfortable sharing with people I had only know for five days, but as they spoke to me, I realized that we were all in similar situations. Taking this step towards vulnerability led me to better understand myself and the other students on this trip.
Junior, St. Mary's University