Hawai'i Forgiveness Heroes

The following individuals were honored as Heroes of Forgiveness at the events in Honolulu, August 4, 2009.

Mitsuo Aoki

Mitsuo Aoki is a semi-retired theologian, minister, college professor and founder of the University of Hawaii's Department of Religion. For over four decades the Rev. Dr. Aoki has shown others how to experience death not merely as an end, but as a vital, inseparable part of life.

Mitsuo Aoki brought spirituality and forgiveness into caregiving for those going through the transition of death. His approach is one of 'conscious dying' that leads to fuller living. A 2003 film about his work, Living Your Dying, captured the essence of his approach as he assisted three terminally ill persons live their final months fully. He helped found the hospice movement in Hawaii and has influenced profoundly the lives of thousands of clients, their families as well as his many students. In 2004, Mitsuo Aoki was named a "Living Treasure of Hawaii" by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.

Gwen Ka’ilihiwa

Gwen Ka’ilihiwa was born and raised in Waimanalo. She and her husband Charley are parents of 5 children, 3 adopted children, 1 foster child and many others who live with them and come in and out of their home in Waimanalo. In 2008, Gwen’s 21 years old son Steve, a triplet, was killed during an altercation when he intervened to help a woman during a domestic argument with her husband.

Although stricken with grief and sorrow, Gwen publicly forgave the killer of her son a few days after the killing. The father of the killer was overwhelmed with disbelief, stating, “I have never asked the mom for their forgiveness, but she give to my family unconditionally. Something like I said I cannot imagine." The father said he was stunned at how Gwen and Charley reached out to his family and even invited them to attend Steve's funeral. "Nobody could show love. They love us. I cannot imagine the love they love us with. They've even forgiven my son and they've forgiven us."

Gwen credits their faith in God led them to forgiveness: "We got to pono and forgive, and we can live our lives happy because the world we live in now is not the beautiful world. We have to make it beautiful as much as possible."

Bryan Yamashita

Why did it happen? That question may never be answered but Bryan Yamashita has stated he forgives the man who is responsible for the death of his beloved wife, Asa, in February 2009, in an apparent random act of violence. Bryan believes that he doesn’t want people getting angry at the man. “Anger's not going to help anything. It's not going to bring her back. She was my soul mate. She was my best friend."

Strengthened by his Christian faith, Bryan knows that something good and positive will come out of this tragedy. Soon after the death of Asa, Bryan began to focus on the goodness of Asa’s life, the caring and inspiration she provided for her students at Waianae High School, the love she showered on their two daughters. Bryan’s forgiveness and humbleness touched thousands who grieved with the family. "It was such a tragic moment that happened. But it is interesting how one man's faith, one man's belief can really bring assurance to people who don't even know him," commented a church pastor.

Hawaii Forgiveness Project