Saint Damien De Vuester of Moloka’I – Part II
“The world of politics and journalism can boast heroes, but few can be compared to Fr Damien of Molokai. It is worth looking at the sources of this heroism”.
~ Mahatma Gandhi wrote these words. He spoke of how Father Damien exemplified the ideals of compassion and sacrificial love that lie at the heart of many great religions and how he had inspired his own life.
Father Damien De Veuster stepped onto an isle of leprosy, isolation and despair called Molokai. He was not daunted by the task ahead. He was a skilful carpenter and immediately began to build Molokai’s chapel. The lepers began to help Father Damien. Having lost their dignity and value in the world, he resurrected their spirit of hope. They built a place for the leper’s children and even a road between Kalawao and Kalaupapa.
This humble man taught them how to farm in order to be self-sufficient. He did not look down upon the lepers with pity and fear, but instead honoured their worth and their hearts. He administered medical treatment, such as changing the dressing on their ulcers. That act alone was profound. He chose to suffer with them. He took on their horrible suffering.
“…I make myself a leper with the lepers..”
He learned to speak the Hawaiian language, which helped him organize schools, bands and choirs. The enrichment of their lives into the arts helped his patients to find meaning again in the world. He understood that every human being has a right to a full life and not just one of basic needs. Self-dignity includes embracing all around us.
Father Damien did not hesitate to reach out for more resources to help his people. His efforts attracted worldwide attention. He became the voice of the voiceless.
There were many, including some medical doctors, who felt leprosy was the result of sexual immorality. The shame was horrendous for these victims of the disease. Father Damien abhorred this stigma so much, that he offered to be examined by doctors after contacting leprosy himself, to prove this accusation was unjust.
After 12 years his body now suffered with the disease. But, he continued with the work. At the age of 49 years, he passed away in 1889, at Kalawao. He wrote he was happy to be with his lepers.
In this place suffused with horror, Father Damien had created a Camelot. In this wilderness he built a type of castle to home all those who were broken, thereby eliminating the isolation. He then, in this colony of shame, restored honour and dignity to each leper through compassion, great respect and fellowship. And then, he held their hands in his bare hands with great love to help heal their severely broken hearts.
For 15 years Saint Damien De Vuester of Moloka’i was a Master Knight. His courage, his compassion and his faith carried a colony of broken people. King Arthur and all in Camelot this night, bow down with the deepest honour to a hero who carried the greatest of sufferings. We thank him for caring about those who suffer in this world.
May we always remember the great love of Father Damien.
Scribe of Camelot
P.S. When I was a young maiden, I read the story of Father Damien of Molokai. There are some stories that remain in your heart and his story remained in mine.