October 2, 2009 // Uncategorized

Life has changed for woman whose cancer cure led to canonization

By Anna Weaver

HONOLULU (CNS) — In her 44 years as a teacher, Audrey Toguchi, now retired, doled out a lot of advice to her students.

Since she was publicly identified in April 2008 as the woman whose cancer cure the Vatican declared as the second miracle needed to make Blessed Damien de Veuster of Molokai a saint, she finds herself in the role of adviser again.

This time she is counseling people who find her unlisted telephone number, who approach her in stores, who write her letters or who contact her through others. They want her guidance and her prayers for them and their loved ones. Toguchi listens and responds.

“You have people who have problems and they just need to be reassured that God is there for them,” she told the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Honolulu Diocese. She spoke to the newspaper about a month before the Oct. 11 canonization of Blessed Damien, a missionary priest famed for his work with patients with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy.

And although Toguchi, a friendly 81-year-old who converses easily with a warm, peaceful smile, is happy to help in any way she can, it can be overwhelming to be suddenly at the center of so much attention.

Besides those seeking counsel and prayers, there are also requests from TV stations, publications and documentary crews seeking interviews, or others who want her to speak at an event.

While she’s going on the official Diocese of Honolulu pilgrimage to Belgium and Italy Oct. 3-13, Toguchi will also have to deal with added attention on the trip. For instance, while in Rome she’s been asked to give a five-minute talk to an estimated 3,000 people the night before Blessed Damien’s canonization and also be interviewed for a future “20/20” documentary.

“I looked at (St.) Bernadette and I looked at the Blessed Mother. They didn’t go out tooting their horns. They just took a very quiet back seat,” Toguchi said.

“I thought just like Bernadette you just climb in a hole and hide and just say thank you,” she said half-joking. “But it’s not happening like that.”

Toguchi said she gets a range of reactions from people now who know about her miracle, and she certainly wouldn’t want to call what she’s experiencing “fame.”

“You know you’re just a common person. Just like Abraham Lincoln said, ‘God loves the common man,'” she said.

That’s one reason she has always been devoted to Blessed Damien.

“You look at what he had — nothing,” she said.

Toguchi planned to make the simple life of the priest the focus of her Oct. 10 Rome talk. She shared the “kicker” she planned for concluding her speech, a quote from an anecdotal story called “Hot Chocolate”: “Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly. Leave the rest to God. Remember, the richest person is not the one that has the most, but the one who needs the least.”

“I think that’s so appropriate for Father Damien,” she said.

Toguchi’s devotion to Blessed Damien started when she was a Catholic schoolgirl at St. Augustine and Sacred Hearts Academy. It continued through her teaching years and in raising her two sons, Eric and Ivan, with her husband, Yukio.

When she was diagnosed in 1998 with pleomorphic liposarcoma, an aggressive form of fat tissue cancer that spread to her lungs, Toguchi went to Blessed Damien’s grave in Kalawao, on the Hawaiian island Molokai, and prayed. The tumors in her lungs disappeared without treatment by 1999, and in 2004 she and Yukio made a pilgrimage of thanksgiving back to Father Damien’s grave to thank him and God for her healing.

It was the prompting of her non-Catholic doctor, Walter Y.M. Chang, that led her to first approach the church about her case. After a Diocese of Honolulu tribunal investigated Toguchi’s cure in 2003 and again in 2005, it was passed along to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes at the Vatican.

In October 2007 a medical commission of the congregation approved the “extranatural” cure. In April 2008, the congregation’s theological commission also approved it, and Toguchi, who had previously remained anonymous, was publicly named for the first time.

On July 3, 2008, after approval by the congregation’s cardinals and bishops, Pope Benedict XVI approved Toguchi’s miracle. On Feb. 21, 2009, he announced that he would canonize Blessed Damien along with four others on Oct. 11.

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