The event was organized by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, and the staff of the Embassy here in Rome, and the host was the Vatican Museums. The ambassador, for those who may not be familiar with him, was appointed by President Obama in 2009. That choice at the time was a slightly unconventional one, as Diaz was a theologian by profession, earning a Ph.D. in theology from Notre Dame; he has a specialization in liberation theology.
The ambassador and his wife were gracious hosts, and I know first-hand that the Embassy staff went out of its way to be efficient and more than helpful to the many pilgrims who had made their way to the Eternal City. The Cuban-born theologian/diplomat gave a warm opening address to the combined groups for St. Kateri and St. Marianne, and seemed genuinely excited to have so many people in Rome for the occasion. He singled out several notable guests, including Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu; Father Wayne Paysse, the current head of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions; and Monsignor Paul Lenz, the director emeritus of the bureau and also the vice-postulator for the Cause of Kateri Tekakwitha. Both Father Paysse and Bishop Silva spoke briefly, and the bishop presented Ambassador Diaz with a special gift.
As the ambassador is a musician, he was given a specially made ukulele that had the elegant buttery sheen of the finest hand-made instruments from Hawaii. Finally, a short welcome was also offered by Dr. Antonio Paolucci, the Director of the Vatican Museums.
The rest of evening continued with a distinctly Hawaiian flavor, courtesy of a hula show that honored the life of Mother Marianne in song and dance. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that hula has been performed in the ornate cortiles, or courtyards, of the Vatican Museums. The courtyards have been the scene of everything from bull fights to carousels to dances, and even Pope Leo X paraded his beloved elephant Hanno there – the papal pachyderm was later buried in the Belvedere Cortile. It seems fitting, then, that the Museum that already houses and honors the world’s greatest art and cultural patrimony should host an evening of Hawaiian dancing and give praise to two such extraordinary figures.