Saint Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i

This week’s Saint of the Week is Saint Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i, more commonly called Saint Damien of Molokai.  He is one of my favorite Saints.  Saint Damien was born and raised in Belgium in 1840, which at the time, was a very Catholic and missionary oriented country.  One of his older sisters was a nun and one of his brothers was also a priest.  Saint Damien wanted to be a missionary and looked forward to a life of difficult service to those in need.  While still in priestly formation, his brother fell ill and was unable to serve as planned as a missionary in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Saint Damien lobbied to take his place. He was ordained a priest and served on the island of Hawaii, where he volunteered to serve as priest for the leper colony on the Island of Molokai, Hawaii.  Those exiled to the colony lived in harsh conditions and was a source of political embarrassment for the nation of Hawaii.  The colony was isolated on a part of Molokai surrounded by high and treacherous cliffs, impossible for those suffering from leprocy to climb.  If one did make it to the top, there were standing orders to shoot them on sight. Prior to Saint Damien’s arrival, the colony was self governed by the inhabitants living as outcasts under a death sentence, and practiced survival of the fittest, making life for children, women and the elderly, and the most sick, a living hell. Medical care, adequate housing, clothing, food and fresh water were all woefully lacking.  If you were sent to Molokai; you died there. 

Saint Damien lived among the lepers as one of their own.  He served as priest, bringing Mass and the sacraments, he built churches and homes for the residents, he taught them to grow food, he tended to the sick, even changing their bandages, dug their graves and presided over their funerals.  He treated Catholic and non-Catholics alike, converting many to the faith.  He also advocated strongly for their needs, achieving world wide fame during his lifetime due to letters to his brother about the conditions on the island and the lack of resources available to those exiled there.  This publicity cut both ways.  It led to public pressure that brought badly needed supplies, building materials and clothing to improve conditions on the island; it also created petty jealousies from his superiors safe in Honolulu, who seemed determined to thwart his efforts at every turn.

After 12 years on the island, Saint Damien contracted the disease himself.  He continued to serve the colony and the residents in the same selfless and enthusiastic way until the time of his death on April 15, 1889.

Those upset about the stalled cause for sainthood of Blessed Bishop J. Fulton Sheen can take heart in the canonization of Saint Damien.  Like Bishop Sheen, Father Damien’s superiors did not enthusiastically embrace his cause for sainthood.  In fact, they appeared to do all in their power to prevent it.  Upset by the constant pressure he put on them to provide aid to the victims of the colony, jealous over the publicity he received in his life and a willingness to give credence to rumors about this great Saint’s temperament and even his chastity, delayed his canonization, but did not stop it.  Saint Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009.  The Holy Spirit will not be denied! 

There are a number of books about the life of Saint Damien of Molokai.  The movie Molokai: The Story Of Father Damien, is excellent and is available to watch for free on YouTube.  The movie stays is true to his life and if you want to learn more about this Holy Saint, I cant recommend it enough!

This weeks cartoon is inspired by artist Marisol Escobar's statue of Father Damien,  in front of the Hawaii State Capitol Building, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Feast day:  May 10

Patron of: Lepers

Prayer to St. Damien

Damien, brother on the journey, happy and generous missionary, who loved the Gospel more than your own life, who for love of Jesus left your family, your homeland, your security and your dreams.

Teach us to give our lives with joy like yours, to be in solidarity with the outcasts of our world, to celebrate and contemplate the Eucharist as the source of our own commitment.

Help us to love to the very end and, in the strength of the Spirit, to persevere in compassion for the poor and forgotten so that we might be good disciples of Jesus and Mary.

Saint Damien of Molokai, pray for us!

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