Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fr. Damien


Pope Benedict will canonize 10 new saints this year, five in April and another five in October. One of the October saints is Fr. Damien de Veuster.

Fr. Damien de Veuster
Photo taken two months before his death

Fr. Damien was chaplain for the Molokai leper colony in Hawaii. Born Joseph de Veuster in 1840, he took the name Damien and went to Hawaii in 1864 to join his fellow missionaries of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. About 10 years later he started caring for leprosy patients on the Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai island, where about 8,000 people had been banished during an epidemic in islands.

Father was a heroically generous soul who sought out those who had been abandoned and left to rot (literally). The forgotten ones on the leper colony were demoralized and lived in despair (at times even dissolutely), but the good priest reminded them of their dignity and told them that the Son of God had died for them as well. Fr. Damien labored hard to cultivate a culture of life on the island, especially through the Church’s liturgy: the magnificent Catholic Latin High Mass was a beloved hint of Heaven to those suffering people. At the end of his life he contracted leprosy himself -- a cross he bore generously, uniting it with Christ's suffering on Golgotha.

In the 19th century the colony was accessible only by sea just a few times out of the year; sometimes the lepers were just thrown overboard near the shore because there was no place for the ship to land. Even today a boat docks at the site of the colony only twice a year (planes make it a bit more accessible).

In 1936 Fr. Damien's body was exhumed and returned to Belgium (though in 1995 his right hand was returned to his original grave in Hawaii). The woman whose miraculous healing served as the final proof of Fr. Damien's sanctity had stage 4 cancer; she'd prayed to Fr. de Veuster for help, and after seven years her prayers were heard. (Aside: not that a saint answer prayers; when you ask for a saint's help, what you're doing is asking him to intervene on your behalf before the throne of God).

Fr. Damien's canonization has been expected for some time.

No comments: