Monday, May 10, 2010

Father Damien of Molokai

TODAY IS THE very first celebration of a new Saint's day. Saint Joseph de Veuster was a Belgian missionary who was sent to the Kingdom of Hawaii; he took ‘Damien’ as his religious name.

Ordained on May 21st, 1864, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, Father Damien first served as a parish priest on the island of Oahu. But soon thereafter, due to widespread non-indigenous diseases ravaging the native Hawaiian population, the King ordered the creation of a leper colony to prevent the further spread of this disease. Native Hawaiians are generally known to have a peaceful and easy-going disposition, but the new colony soon devolved to lawlessness and dissolution. They needed a priest to shepherd them, but the Bishop did not want to order any priest to serve them, since such an assignment could very well be equivalent to a death sentence.

Father Damien volunteered to serve the leper colony. He arrived at the colony of Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai on May 10th, 1873. Besides his distinctly priestly duties, he helped encourage the people to follow the law, he tended the sick, he built homes, and dug their graves.

By 1884, he contracted leprosy, and still serving his people, died of the disease in 1889. He was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2009.

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