Blessed Damien the Leper
by Gwen Wise
used with permission
Blessed Damien the Leper
Died (His feast day when canonized): April 15, 1989
Patron (When he is declared a saint): probably lepers
Declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1994
Based on "Damien the Leper" by John Farrow. Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote about Blessed Damien in a rebuttal to a jealous, gossipy attack by a protestant preacher in a letter to another minister.
I've been reading a biography of Damien the Leper and it has got to be the most adventurous, exciting biography of a saint I've read in a long time.
Fr. Damien was born and raised in Belgium. As a young seminarian, he was refused permission to go as a missionary to Hawaii, until his brother fell ill and he was then chosen to go in his place. When he arrived on the islands he was given a large parish which he was very successful at converting.
There was one dark night when he heard the drums of a satanic ritual. Well, he got up and walked through the pitch dark jungle toward the noise and when he arrived at the cave he looked in to see a dog being sacrificed. As he watched, the witch doctor pulled out a voodoo doll of Fr. Damien. Father marched right into that cave to the astonishment of all the men there, snatched the doll and proceeded to rip it up and stomp on it. The men were so amazed that he did not self-destruct right there, that they never were tempted to worship anything but the True God again. Can you imagine courage like this?
When Fr. Damien volunteered to go minister to the leper colony on the island of Molokai, he knew he would never be able to leave there. The treatment of these poor, poor people is not to be believed. They were removed from their spouses, children, etc. and dropped off on the island with barely anything. The government figured they could grow their own food despite the fact that anyone in the advanced stages of leprosy has few of their fingers or toes.
Father's love for these people was so complete and so pure it is like reading about Jesus on the Cross. Of course, that's why he's a saint. He never showed one look of surprise when he first beheld their deformities or hesitated for a moment to dress their wounds, share their meals, or bury them. He built the coffins by himself and gave the dead dignified burials. More than one funeral a day was not unusual.
While he was a thorn in the side of the health department because of his constant demands on behalf of his lepers, the tender care Fr. Damien showed to the outcasts transformed their lives so completely .
He slept under a tree for several weeks while he built huts, a church and clinics. He was incredibly strong and could build entire buildings by himself working nonstop day and night. In fact, the effort required for half the things he did was superhuman. Although the lepers were still sick and suffering, they came to know their God given worth and the love of the Father. Morals and morale were both vastly improved.
The most touching events came out of Father's love for the lepers and their love for him. The funerals turned into processions of music and joy; for the hope of resurrection was now with them. Groups formed for the purpose of happy feasting; there were torch bearers for processions, a band, and a choir.
Anyone arriving on the island was treated like royalty. Indeed, the queen herself arrived for an hour visit and ended up staying all day and night, enjoying the extreme friendliness and hospitality typical of the residents of Molokai. She wept sorrowfully her entire trip home.
Of course Fr. Damien did get leprosy. He knew he would and long after he could barely walk he was still keeping up his frantic pace of building, planning, begging supplies, and saying Mass for his beloved lepers. He was only able to relax and die peacefully after knowing his replacements would carry on his work and the lepers would never be abandoned. This April 15th, 1999 will be the 110th anniversary of his death.