The Leper Priest, the Hero of Molokai. Born in Tremelo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840, he joined the Sacred Hearts Fathers in 1860. He was bom Joseph and received the name Damien in religious life. In 1864, he was sent to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he Was ordained. For the next nine years he worked in missions on the big island, Hawaii. In 1873, he went to the leper colony on Molokai, after volunteering for the assignment. Damien cared for lepers of all ages, but was particularly concerned about the children segregated in the colony. He announced he was a leper in 1885 and continued to build hospitals, clinics, and churches, and some six hundred coffins. He died on April 15 , on Molokai. Slandered by a Protestant minister, Mr. Hyde, Damien was defended by Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote an impassioned defense of Damien in 1905. He was declared venerable in 1977. Pope John Paul II declared him beatified on June 4, 1995.
On February 21, 2009, the Vatican announced that Father Damien would be canonized. The ceremony took place in Rome on October 11, 2009, in the presence of King Albert II of the Belgians and Queen Paola as well as the Belgian Prime Minister and several cabinet ministers, completing the process of canonization.
"Not without fear and loathing," Pope Benedict underlined, "Father Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered. With them he felt at home. The servant of the Word became a suffering servant, leper with the lepers, during the last four years of his life."
He continued, "To follow Christ, Father Damian not only left his homeland, but has also staked his health so he, as the word of Jesus announced in today's Gospel tells us, received eternal life."
The figure of Father Damian, Benedict XVI added, "teaches us to choose the good fight not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity."
Damien's symbols are a tree and a dove. In Saint Damien's role as the unofficial patron of those with HIV and AIDS, the world's only Roman Catholic memorial chapel to those who have died of this disease, at the Église Saint-Pierre-Apôtre in Montreal, Quebec, is consecrated to him.
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By Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.
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