Recalling Fr. Damien of Molokai, Hawaii

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Vatican announced that Fr. Damien de Veuster (1840-1889), the late 19th century Belgian priest who selflessly ministered to leprosy-stricken people in a settlement in Kalaupapa, Hawaii will be declared saint on October 11, 2009. Considered a “martyr of charity,” Fr. Damien served the quarantined patients in Molokai, Hawaii where he contracted Hansen’s disease (leprosy) until he died at the age of 49.

“Damien’s life was suffused with horror, yet he refused to be broken by it and refused to permit his little flock to be swept into despair. He ran foot races for the sports-loving lepers, even though some of them had no feet. He formed a band, even though some had few fingers to play the instruments. One witness reported two organists who played at the same time, managing ten fingers between them.”—Damien, the leper (www.ewtn.com/library/)

A protector of those shunned by society because of disease affliction, the Roman Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary religious group, was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 4, 1995. He had been identified as a champion of the outcasts—those with HIV-AIDS, leprosy, and other contagious diseases.

The remembrance of Fr. Damien is timely as the Catholic Church observes Ash Wednesday on February 25, 2009, the onset of lent, the days of fasting, penance, and reconciliation. (Photo Credit: Hawaii State Archives x 2 PD) =0=

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