Some humans are led to acts of self sacrifice that resonate throughout the centuries. St. Damien of Molokai lived such a life, and his story still has a powerful emotional impact on me. A 19th-century priest who deliberately sacrificed his life in order to provide care and service to leprosy patients in Hawaii has been canonized by the Catholic church, but was already canonized a while ago by other Christian churches.
Father Damien (1840-1889) was born Jozef De Veuster in Belgium. He was beautified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.
He was adopted as the patron saint of AIDS/HIV sufferers where his example served as a beacon of light to showing others about caring for patients with another lethal disease. Most remember the days when no one wanted to touch or be close to an HIV positive patient, just as no one wanted to be near the lepers of Molokai.
Father Damien was elevated to sainthood today by Pope Benedict XVI, in an overflow ceremony that was attended by 400,000 people. Included were Hawaiian women who wore traditional dress, with head dresses made of red roses.
During the 1800’s, thousands of Hawaiians were exposed to many communicable diseases, including Hansens disease, or leprosy, by sailors from Europe and America. Hansen’s disease was so lethal and so easily spread, that the victims were isolated to Kalaupapa, on Molokai island’s North side. They were so socially and medically neglected that the Catholic church decided to establish service for them.
Father Damien took the assignment to provide for them, knowing that it was a likely death sentence for him to take the position.
He is now Saint Damien of Molokai. A monument to his church, St Philomena’s Church, is being built at the site, where twenty patients are still in residence. Now, St Damien of Molokai will not be forgotten.
Find more history about St Damien of Molokai, and news about today’s other canonizations at: