Father Damien – Part 1
Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa.
To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain!
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.
To the Reverend Sister Marianne
By, Robert Louis Stevenson
The famous Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote these words after visiting Molokai, Hawaii, shortly after the death of the Roman Catholic priest Father Damien (1840-1889). The author of “The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde” and “Treasure Island”, Stevenson visited the island for eight days against his own doctor’s advice even though he was afflicted with Tuberculosis (TB). That visit honouring the “noble-hearted Catholic priest” changed his life. Stevenson believed Damien was a saint and predicted that the Church would one day canonize him.
On Sunday October 11, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Father Damien, this 19th century priest, who in 1873 went to Molokai to care for ostracized lepers. Succumbing to leprosy himself, he was laid to rest in Molakai. But later President Roosevelt provided a United States Navy Ship to transport the casket to Antwerp, in his native Belgium.
Born in Belgium, Father Damien followed in the footsteps of his brother Auguste to become a Picpus Brother. Although he lacked education, his superiors allowed him to become a priest. Damien would pray to St. Francis Xavier, patron of Missionaries, to be sent on a mission. In 1863, he went out to the Pacific Islands, taking the place of his brother, who had been prevented by an illness. Thus began one of the most moving stories of compassion.
Mission to Hawaii
Now an ordained priest of the Fathers of Sacred Hearts, he witnessed the frightful leprosy ( Hansen’ disease ) epidemic that spread over the islands. King Ka mehameha V had quarantined the lepers to a settlement on Molokai. Leprosy for centuries defied cure or remedy. Arriving on the island those afflicted stumbled with torn and bleeding feet. Between 1866 and 1873, the island of Molokai received 797 lepers. That year Father Damien volunteered to take spiritual charge of the settlement in Molokai.
Mankind has been affected with leprosy for at least 4,000 years. Until 1940, there was no effective treatment for leprosy. In medieval times, some sources indicate that there was a belief that those suffering from leprosy were considered to be going through Purgatory on Earth. Hence, their suffering was considered holier than the ordinary person’s. Lepers were forced to exist in a place between life and death, separated from the world.
Characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation, leprosy was a dreaded ailment. An infectious disease, the stigma of leprosy and fear drove people to cruel acts. Hence, Father Damien became a servant of the outcast.
End of Part I
For those who feel ostracized, in a place between heaven and earth, remember you are not alone in Camelot.
Scribe of Camelot