Walking with the Saints

As I write this reflection I am a little distracted. As I left the Cathedral Center on Wednesday I listened to a voicemail that said, “Hi Sister Greta, this is Wyatt Gallery in New York and I have some good news for you. You will be on the cover of Time magazine tomorrow.” I never expected to hear those words!

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I had participated in a photo shoot about a year ago for an artist named Hank Willis Thomas. He was making a series of pictures based on the Four Freedoms – a series of oil paintings by Norman Rockwell painted in 1943. The new works are a collage of photographs reflecting a more culturally diverse America. I had happened into the photo shoot and the one I am in was chosen for the cover of Time Magazine with the caption “Who Gets to be American?”

Many people want to be American but it was not the desire of the King and Queen of Hawaii in the mid nineteenth century. On November 28 the Episcopal church celebrates the feast day of Kamehameha and his wife Emma who sought to maintain independence from America. The young king had not had a very good experience in his travels to America. He was at the end of a world trip and had visited France and England where he was treated with respect and honor but on the boat sailing for America he was met with racism. He wrote the following in his journal:

I found he was the conductor, and took me for somebody's servant just because I had a darker skin than he had. Confounded fool;. the first time that I have ever received such treatment, not in England or France or anywhere else........In England an African can pay his fare and sit alongside Queen Victoria. The Americans talk and think a great deal about their liberty, and strangers often find that too many liberties are taken of their comfort just because his hosts are a free people.

These displays of prejudice along with the views of the conservative missionaries led Kamehameha IV King of Hawaii to be less than enthusiastic about America. The king was worried that America intended to conquer his people and that this would mean the end of the monarchy and even the native people.

Kamehameha became the king at the age of twenty and ruled for eight years. He married Emma, a woman of nobility, and they had a son, Prince Albert. Emma encouraged her husband to establish a public hospital to help the Native Hawaiians who were in decline due to foreign-borne diseases like smallpox. More and more Americans were coming to Hawaii and bringing smallpox and other diseases to the native population. The king and queen raised money for a hospital to care for the poor and sick. The hospital is called the Queens hospital and is still the largest in Hawaii. Sadly their child died at the age of four and Kamehameha died only fourteen months later – some say of a broken heart.

Kamehameha, the fourth monarch of Hawaii, and his wife were committed to improving the lives of the native people and built schools and hospitals. They also  brought the Anglican church to Hawaii and the king even translated The Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian.