Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 5, 2009
Damien offered dignity to lepers left in exile
Long revered as the saint of Molokai, he will finally be canonized Sunday
FROM WCR NEWS SOURCES
Blessed Damien de Veuster, a missionary priest who served patients with Hansen's disease in Hawaii, will be canonized by Pope Benedict Oct. 11 at the Vatican.
There were calls for Damien's sainthood almost immediately after his death in 1889 but the road to sainthood is a long one.
Born in 1840, Blessed Damien spent the last 16 years of his life caring for patients with Hansen's disease, or leprosy, on the island of Molokai. He was beatified in 1995.
A Belgian-born member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Blessed Damien sailed for Hawaii in 1864 and served there for eight years. During this time, Hawaii suffered outbreaks of syphilis, influenza and Hansen's disease brought into the islands by travelling sailors.
Fearful of the disease's spread, the king quarantined the lepers into a settlement on the island of Molokai. When a priest was needed for the settlement in 1873, Damien volunteered.
At Molokai, he served as pastor to the approximately 800 residents suffering from leprosy. He later won permission to minister permanently at the settlement and eventually founded two orphanages there.
After he arrived at Molokai, he wrote to his brother in Belgium, "I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ."
Blessed Damien instilled in his flock a sense of their human dignity and encouraged them to live full lives rather than to simply await death. He effectively fought against the immorality, drunkenness and lawlessness that was rampant among the adult lepers when he arrived.
EXILE BECOMES HOME
He built musical instruments and houses, counselled the lepers and served as both their physician and gravedigger in an effort to turn their place of exile into a home.
Blessed Damien died at Molokai five years after contracting leprosy. He continued to work until a month before his death.
Once canonized, Damien will likely be the patron saint of those with HIV/AIDS and leprosy, which is still widespread in Brazil, Nepal, India and parts of Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Today, he is also commonly seen as a model for how to care for those with HIV/AIDS.
The same day the pope will also canonize Blessed Jeanne Jugan, who founded the Little Sisters of the Poor, and three others.
Blessed Jeanne, born in 1792 in France's Brittany region, is the patroness of the elderly. In 1839, she opened her home to a sick and blind elderly woman. As time passed, more and more elderly women arrived at her home for help.
Eventually, other woman came to help Blessed Jeanne, and today the Little Sisters of the Poor care for more than 13,000 needy elderly men and women around the world.
Blessed Jeanne died in 1879.
On Oct. 11, the pope also will canonize:
Blessed Zygmunt Felinski, a former archbishop of Warsaw, Poland, and founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary. Born in 1822 near Volinia, which today is in Ukraine, he was deported to Russia and, after being freed, worked among the poor farmers of Ukraine and Poland. He died in 1895.
Blessed Francisco Coll Guitart, a Spanish Dominican priest who founded the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 19th century.
Blessed Rafael Arnaiz Baron, a 20th-century Spanish Trappist brother known for his humility.
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