This month marks a decade of sainthood for St. Damien de Veuster. Since his canonization we continue to see him inspire others to serve. This year the Diocese of Honolulu has instituted a program to share the relics of St. Damien and St. Marianne with the world. One of the first requests for the relics came from a visitor to Moloka’i when he was a teen that inspired him to be a priest. That young man now Fr. Chad Green of the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored the tour of the relics last May through the Pacific Northwest. There are now requests coming in from as close as Las Vegas, the so called ninth island and as far as Belgium.
Our world today is fraught with some of the same challenges that beloved Damien was a champion for. He prayed to God for inspiration every step of his journey to be a beacon of hope to the exiled he served. This month let us pray for the intercession of St. Damien in serving the disenfranchised of our communities, nation and world. Let us reflect on how his life can inspire us to serve and explore being selfless in our lives.
One hundred and thirty six years ago on October 23, a humble young man still in formation for the priesthood set sail from Europe to become a missionary to the people of the Hawaiian Islands. Damien de Veuster buoyed by the opportunity to answer the apostolic call of Christ to “Go teach all the Nations” endured nearly five months aboard a ship to begin his work of serving the people of Hawaii. He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace before he began his missionary work.
Do not worry about me in the least, for when one serves God, one is happy anywhere. – St. Damien
He began his work in his early twenties. His passion for serving the suffering and exiled people of Kalawao should be a model for today’s youth who have a rallying cry of “Be the Change.” This devoted servant of God easily adapted to his new environment in language and custom. Literally, using the simple practice of touching to endear him to the community of outcast who were deemed untouchable. He worked to save souls, but also served as an advocate for their human rights. While others retreated from personal contact with those afflicted with Hansen’s Disease and distanced themselves from sufferers emotionally, Fr. Damien embraced these poor souls. Even erecting his personal home above the cemetery where so many who perished were put to rest to remind him to pray for them.
The happiest missionary in the world – St. Damien
Fr. Damien found such inspiration from the book The Imitation of Christ and embraced mortification of the body as a gift. “With a priest like Damien, in whom belief was unaffectedly incarnate, faith was made physical. To mortify the body, to die to himself, to risk physical leprosy in order to cure moral leprosy – this was to be a good priest.” So, when the diagnosis came, he found a sense of solidarity with the people he had served. “If by misfortune your young, robust, zealous and charitable priest should be stolen away from you by death, no, no you would not be abandoned.” This was evidenced by the second miracle attributed to him that allowed him to be elevated to sainthood. A Hawaiian woman who visited his grave at Kalawao to pray for his intercession was cured of cancer — which the Vatican verified as a miracle.
What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains, and is, immortal. – Albert Pine
St. Damien is indeed immortalized in several ways as an ambassador of social justice, service, and human dignity. Helping to promote his story and works of mercy through pilgrimages and tours to Kalaupapa or donations to Damien and Marianne of Moloka’i Education Center or Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace where the remains of St. Marianne reside and a first-class relic of St. Damien.
More than 8,000 souls died after being exiled to the peninsula at the base of the island of Moloka’i including Fr. Damien, before a cure for leprosy was ever discovered. Today there are 13 survivors who remain there and have “Ho’ohali’a” they shared from Ohana who talk story of how much the saints showed in word and deed how much they cared for the people they served. The peninsula is now a National Park that will allow visitors to truly walk in the footsteps of saints. The park experience really will create a visualization of the day in the life for the residents that will prompt reflection on issues of social justice and human dignity. Visit NPS.gov/kala.
St. Augustine by the Sea parish on Oahu, just across from Waikiki Beach will become the site for the new Damien and Marianne of Moloka’i Education Center that will serve to educate visitors about the story of the people of Kalaupapa and the two saints who served them. This interactive experience will showcase many of the artifacts in physical and digital forms to inspire future generations as well as preserve the mōʻaukala. Visit DamienAndMarianne.org.
Other ways that you can honor the legacy of St. Damien this month would be to read Holy Man Father Damien of Moloka’i by Gavan Daws or The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Also, start a novena on October 11 in honor of his tenth anniversary of sainthood. Finally, learn more about his religious order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and pray for the many works they are doing in the world.
Hauʻoli lā hānau St. Damien!
Copyright 2019 Sherry Hayes-Peirce