November 01, 2009
The Saint of Molokai'i, A Tribute For All Saints
A Hawaiian style prayer card with the Maile Lei and a photo of the young Damien at ordination
During Fr. Damien's beatification homily, Pope John Paul II said: "Holiness is not perfection according to human criteria; it is not reserved for a small number of exceptional persons. It is for everyone; it is the Lord who brings us to holiness, when we are willing to collaborate in the salvation of the world for the glory of God, despite our sin and our sometimes rebellious temperament."
"We are all called to be great saints, dont miss the opportunity" ... is one of Mother Angelica's famous quotes, and I think a valid one. We live our lives never thinking that just around the corner, is an opportunity to have a dynamic impact for Christ in our world. Many times this is caused by just going about our business doing what we are called to do. Im sure that if we interviewed those we call "saints" they wouldn't think they were anything special or did anything worth noting, but that is what we are called to do, as Blessed Mother Theresa said "doing small things with great love..." that is the secret of a life pleasing to God.
In the first Christian centuries, those proclaimed saints were usually martyrs. Nowadays, those most often venerated are men and women who in their time were great humanitarians-missionaries, builders of hospitals and schools, servants of the poor and the abandoned.
Even in this shining company, Damien stands out, as one can see from a good biography like Gavan Daws's Holy Man: Damien of Molokai. When Joseph De Veuster, a strong and devout 19-year-old, entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Louvain, he took the name Damien. In the fall of 1863, he set sail for the Hawaiian mission and was ordained in Honolulu on May 21, 1864.
the painted church of Hawaii, South Kona Big Island of Hawaii
He then went to serve the parish mission on the southwest side of the Big Island at what is now known as Star of the Sea Painted church
This is adjacent to the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau or City of Refuge
once the home of Hawaiian kings it had become a place for lepers to be quarantined as they were prepared to be shipped off to Molokai'i
Almost exactly nine years after he left Belgium, having volunteered for the neglected leper colony stranded on Molokai, Damien reached the island on which he would die. The settlement had a spectacular location at the foot of towering cliffs facing tropical seas, but when Damien arrived, living there was like living in a suburb of hell. No medical care, no supplies... it was as though those people had just been dumped off the ships and left to die of exposure in that deserted place.
The highest sea cliffs in the world are here on Molokai'i It was this forbidding scene that greeted the young Belgian as he prepared to do his life's work...Kalapaupa Molokai'i Hawaii
But Father Damien didn't give up. He used the resources and contacts that he had to gather assistance from the church and the public at large. Soon nursing sisters joined him and a hospital was set up. Trades were taught and workshops opened to supply needed items for the colony and to give the residents employment and hope...
He was, first of all, the people's priest--celebrating Mass for them, hearing their confessions and keeping vigil at their deathbeds. But he also transformed the colony physically as well as spiritually. the author, Gavin Daws quotes an observer who described how the young priest went to work: "A vigorous, forceful, impellant man with a generous heart in the prime of life and a jack of all trades, carpenter, mason, baker, farmer, Medico and nurse, no lazy bone in the makeup of his manhood, busy from morning till nightfall."
Photo of Fr Damien with residents of the colony unknown source
But there was much more to Damien than the social activist who could quarrel vigorously with civic and ecclesiastical bigwigs when they were slow to back improvements for the leper colony. He had an inner life that energized and sustained his outer life.
He spent the first hours of each day in prayer. Even in his final illness he slept on a straw mattress laid on the floor. And he constantly refreshed his spirit by reading the Imitation of Christ, a 15th-century treatise that was once the most popular of Catholic devotional books.
Today the Imitation is often dismissed as unsound because, on the one hand, it emphasizes austerity, humility, solitude and unremitting self-scrutiny while, on the other hand, it says nothing about the service of others and is contemptuous of secular culture.
Yet the genius of the book is proven by the way it spoke so powerfully to an ardent heart like Damien's: "Let it be our chief study to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ .... Jesus has many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few who are willing to bear his cross."
Damien did indeed want to help the miserable, but for a reason that went far beyond decent compassion. He went to Molokai because he knew unerringly that this was to be his way of loving and following the Christ who said: "What you do for one of these least ones, you do for me."
A view of the Kalaupapa settlement now home to one of the worlds only research centers on Hanson's disease...accessible by plane boat or mule only this is one of the most isolated places on earth Molokai'i Hawaii
On a autumn day in a city much closer to the place of his birth than that of his death, Father Damien was eulogised by Pope Benedict XVI during a service of canonization. in the audience were 11 of the last residents of the Kalaupapa Leper Colony in bright Hawaiian dress, along with heads of state, princes and priests of his order.The Holy Father said this of Blessed DamienFather Damian, the famous apostle to the lepers, left Flanders, Belgium at the age of 23 to go on a mission to modern day Hawaii. "Not without fear and loathing," Pope Benedict underlined, "Father Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered. With them he felt at home. The servant of the Word became a suffering servant, leper with the lepers, during the last four years of his life."
He continued, "To follow Christ, Father Damian not only left his homeland, but has also staked his health so he, as the word of Jesus announced in today's Gospel tells us, received eternal life."
The figure of Father Damian, Benedict XVI added, "teaches us to choose the good fight not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity.
Turn of the Century country church Kalawao Molokai'i Hawaii
Labels: Catholic, Faith, Hawaii