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Hundreds attend ceremony to welcome return of saint who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii

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HONOLULU, Hawaii - A white hearse pulled up to the entrance of a downtown Honolulu cathedral Thursday, carrying the remains of a saint known for caring for exiled leprosy patients.

A metal box containing the remains of St. Marianne Cope was carried into the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace for what was a cross between a funeral Mass and a homecoming ceremony.

She was 80 when she died of natural causes in 1918 at the remote Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai, where leprosy patients were exiled until 1969. Her remains were exhumed from Kalaupapa in 2005 during her canonization process and taken to Syracuse, New York, where her religious congregation is based.

She gained sainthood in 2012.

Relocation from New York was necessary because the buildings of the campus where her remains were housed are no longer structurally sound, requiring the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities to move to another part of Syracuse.

"How fitting that she should be placed here in a place of peace," said Sister Roberta Smith, who travelled from Syracuse. With humility, St. Marianne brought peace to many as a "beloved mother of the outcasts," Smith said.

It makes sense to keep her remains in Honolulu, as opposed to Kalaupapa, which can be accessed only via plane or mule, said Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu diocese.

A few former leprosy patients continue to live there. The youngest is 78 years old. Nine of them travelled to Honolulu for Thursday's events.

"She cared for all of us with aloha, compassion and dignity," Kalaupapa resident Clarence Kahilihiwa said.

Hundreds packed into the cathedral, where many lined up for a chance to kiss the box, wrapped in a Hawaiian funerary cloth and draped with lei and a quilt bearing a Hawaiian flag design.

St. Francis sisters carried the box into the cathedral atop a carrier made out of koa wood in the shape of a canoe.

The remains — a full collection of her bones — arrived Sunday in a casket aboard a United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, said diocese spokesman Patrick Downes. He said the remains have been kept at the St. Francis Convent in Manoa.

After a Mass, diocese officials planned to place the sealed zinc-coated metal box containing the bones upright in a koa and glass cabinet in the cathedral. The display cabinet already contained her relic, a small box of bone fragments that Smith brought to Honolulu in 2011. The relic was taken on a tour of the Hawaiian islands.

The diocese plans to build a chapel at the 170-year-old cathedral where the remains will be entombed underground, said Alika Cullen, cathedral general administrator.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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