And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down said to him: If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus having compassion on him, stretched forth his hand; and touching him, saith to him: I will. Be thou made clean. And when he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was made clean.
Blessed Damien is known for his charitable work with a leper’s colony in Molokai, Hawaii. (Read the article at the Catholic Encyclopedia.)
I’m particularly interested in this story because Blessed Damien is Belgian, as is my wife. Everybody in Belgium knows Pere Damien; and he was even voted the “Greatest Belgian Ever” by viewers of the Flemish-Belgian television station VRT. (The French-Belgian station, RTL, had him 3rd in their list.)
As I like to do, let me use his story to deepen our knowledge of our Catholic faith:
- Pere, or Father, Damien was born Joseph de Veuster in Belgium on Jan. 3, 1840.
- He was moved by a Redemptorist missionary to pursue a religious vocation. He entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; and he took the name Damien.
- The Congregation began to establish missions in the Pacific; and Pere Damien was sent to the Kingdom of Hawaii. (By the way, the Congregation built the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, the oldest continuously used cathedral in the United States.)
- There was a colony of lepers on the island of Molokai. Fr. Damien volunteered to minister to them, both spiritually and physically.
- Leprosy is known today as Hansen’s Disease. It is a bacterial disease affecting the skin, nerves, and upper airways. Although it can be transmitted from one person to another, it is not especially contagious. Today, if detected early, HD is treatable and curable.
- Carville, LA is the home to the only national leprosy hospital in the United States today.
- After working with the leper colony for 12 years, Fr. Damien discovered that he had contracted the disease. Four years later, in 1889, he passed away.
That’s the short version of Blessed Damien’s life. So, why will the Church canonize him?
- Pere Damien lived an undoubtedly holy life of charity.
- After his death, people sought his intercession with God for miraculous favors.
- After much examination, the Church has concluded that – in fact – through the intercession of Fr. Damien there have been miraculous cures.
- Pere Damien was beatified in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.
- Following the confirmation of a miracle for a woman with cancer (watch the video), the Church decided to announce God’s will that Fr. Damien is a saint in heaven.
If you are interested in learning more about Blessed Damien’s life, let me recommend a book and a movie — Molokai: The Story of Father Damien. The book is written by Hilde Eynikel. The movie is available througth Ignatius Press; there is a review of the movie at DecentFilms.com.
I don’t want to make this blog political; however, I see a kind of divine message here. Hawaii has been in the news a lot over the past year, given that the islands claim some heritage for President Barack Obama. Interestingly, some people have already decided that President Obama himself is a saint, of sorts.
As people look to Hawaii for the roots of President Obama, the canonization of Blessed Damien is an opportunity for the world to see what a real saint is. Too many people are looking to President Obama to “save us” from our present crises. Maybe God is trying to reveal to us, through Blessed Damien, that real salvation comes through Faith, Hope, and Love.
May Blessed Damien pray for us all. May we all be healed of our spiritual leprosy – the sin that disfigures our soul. And, like the leper in the Gospel of Mark, may we ask Jesus to heal us.