Modern Day Saint
Blessed Damien of Moloka’i
Blessed Damien of Moloka’i was a Belgian missionary priest who devoted over twenty years of his life caring for the lepers in Hawaii. He finally contracted and died of leprosy himself. The following is taken from his journal and tells of the remarkable sacrifice for his fellow Catholics and others.
“God has designed to choose your unworthy brother to assist the poor people attacked by that terrible malady, so often mentioned in the gospel - leprosy. For the last ten years this plague had been spreading in the islands, and at last the government found itself obligated to isolate those affected with it. Shut up in a corner of the island of Moloka’i, between inaccessible cliffs and the sea, these unfortunate creatures are condemned to perpetual exile. Out of two thousand in all who have been sent here, some eight hundred are still living, and among them a certain number of Catholics. A priest was wanted; but here was a difficulty. For, as all communication was forbidden with the rest of the islands, a priest who should be placed here must consider himself shut up with the lepers for the rest of his life; and the Monsignor Maigret, our Vicar-Apostolic, declared that he would not impose this sacrifice on any of us. So, remembering that on the day of my profession I had already put myself under the funeral pall, I offered myself to his lordship to meet, if he thought it well, this second death...
Leprosy, as far as is known, is incurable; it seems to begin by corruption of the blood. Discolored patches appear on the skin, especially on the cheeks; and the parts affected lose their feeling. After a time this discoloration covers the whole body; then ulcers begin to open, chiefly at the extremities. The flesh is eaten away, and gives out a fetid odor; even the breath of the leper becomes so fouled that the air around is poisoned with it. I have had great difficulty in getting accustomed to such an atmosphere. One day, at the Sunday Mass, I found myself so stifled that I thought I must leave the altar to breathe a little of the outer air, but I restrained myself, thinking of our Lord when he commanded them to open the grave of Lazarus, notwithstanding Martha’s words, jam foetet...
Every morning, then, after my Mass, which is followed by instruction, I go visit the sick, half of whom are Catholics. On entering each hut, I begin by offering to hear confession. Those who refuse this spiritual help are not, therefore, refused temporal assistance, which is given to all without distinction. Consequently, everyone, with the exception of a very few bigoted heretics, look on me as a father. As for me, I make myself a leper with the lepers, to gain all to Jesus Christ. That is why, in preaching, I say we lepers, not my brethren, as in Europe.”
Damien of Moloka’i
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