“Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who
seek to please Him.
His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures
as to the greatest of them. Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations,
to tell Him of your miseries, fears, worries, of those who are dear to you,
of your projects, and of your hopes.
Do so with confidence and with an open heart.”
St. Damien of Molokai
(two images of the priest, now saint, Damien of Molokai—images both with and without leprosy)
Are you aware that one of the most dreaded diseases, a centuries-old disease,
that being leprosy, continues to affect people around the world to this day?
At least 150 people yearly, just in the United States alone, are still diagnosed
with Leprosy, otherwise known as Hansen’s disease.
Did you know that there are actually 700 functioning leper colonies still in operation
in India alone?
Are you aware that there actually remains a leper’s colony in Hawaii?
Yes, on those beautiful tropical islands of Hawaii there is actually an active leper’s colony
which has existed for the past 145 years.
There was a time, much like with the plague, when those affected with leprosy were
forced to wear warning bells announcing their proximity to others…
Upon hearing the bell, all those within ears reach, knew to avoid the oncoming individual.
Leprosy, which is highly contagious, forced officials to isolate those afflicted—
hence the colonies of the lepers.
Yet thankfully today, caught early, Leprosy is treatable and is even curable.
Today’s quote is by a man who spent his entire adult life caring for those afflicted
individuals on the island of Molokai who were suffering from the ravages of this horrific
Not only did they suffer physically, knowing death would be slow, deforming and painful,
they also suffered from the social stigma that went along with living with leprosy…
that being a life of total isolation and expulsion from society.
Father Damien offered those who suffered a sense of belonging,
importance and unconditional love.
Looking past the fear, the deformity, the stigma…
Fr Damien offered the gift of humanity as well as dignity back to those who had been
looked upon as less than.
There is no greater pain to a human being than to be stripped of one’s humanness.
To be regarded as less than…even less than that of an animal.
Father Damien saw past the disease and saw human beings…who were hurting.
He brought back to these individuals the gift of hope…
After 11 years of caring for the colony, Father Damien also contracted the disease.
Yet despite his growing illness, Fr. Damien worked even harder on behalf of his
charges procuring recognition by the Hawaiian government to provide basic
services for the colony.
Father Damien died at the age of 49.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II and was later canonized by Pope Benedict 2009
He is honored to this day not only by the Catholic Church but also by the state of Hawaii
for his service to her people.
Father Damien reminds me a great deal of Mother Teresa…a woman who also spent a life
of caring for and tending to those with leprosy as well as other debilitating
and isolating disease.
These two saints took the example of Jesus literally by living and giving their lives
to the service of those in the deepest of need.
And so it only seems natural during this season of gifts and of giving that we recall those
who have given their all for the betterment of others…
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Saint Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i’s Story
When Joseph de Veuster was born in Tremelo, Belgium, in 1840, few people in Europe had any firsthand knowledge of leprosy, Hansen’s disease. By the time he died at the age of 49, people all over the world knew about this disease because of him. They knew that human compassion could soften the ravages of this disease.
Forced to quit school at age 13 to work on the family farm, Joseph entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary six years later, taking the name of a fourth-century physician and martyr. When his brother Pamphile, a priest in the same congregation, fell ill and was unable to go to the Hawaiian Islands as assigned, Damien quickly volunteered in his place. In May 1864, two months after arriving in his new mission, Damien was ordained a priest in Honolulu and assigned to the island of Hawaii.
In 1873, he went to the Hawaiian government’s leper colony on the island of Moloka’i, set up seven years earlier. Part of a team of four chaplains taking that assignment for three months each year, Damien soon volunteered to remain permanently, caring for the people’s physical, medical, and spiritual needs. In time, he became their most effective advocate to obtain promised government support.
Soon the settlement had new houses and a new church, school and orphanage. Morale improved considerably. A few years later, he succeeded in getting the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, led by Mother Marianne Cope, to help staff this colony in Kalaupapa.
Damien contracted Hansen’s disease and died of its complications. As requested, he was buried in Kalaupapa, but in 1936 the Belgian government succeeded in having his body moved to Belgium. Part of Damien’s body was returned to his beloved Hawaiian brothers and sisters after his beatification in 1995.
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, it selected Damien as one of its two representatives in the Statuary Hall at the US Capitol. Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009.
Some people thought Damien was a hero for going to Moloka’i and others thought he was crazy. When a Protestant clergyman wrote that Damien was guilty of immoral behavior, Robert Louis Stevenson vigorously defended him in an “Open Letter to Dr. Hyde.”
Later in 1889 Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Hawaii
for an extended stay. He had tuberculosis, then also incurable,
and was seeking some relief.
Moved by Damien’s story, he became interested in the controversy about the priest
and went to Molokaʻi for eight days and seven nights.
Stevenson wanted to learn more about Damien at the place where he had worked.
He spoke with residents of varying religious backgrounds to learn more about Damien’s work.
Based on his conversations and observations,
he wrote an open letter to Hyde that addressed the minister’s criticisms
and had it printed at his own expense.
This became the most famous account of Damien,
featuring him in the role of a European aiding a benighted native people.