Saint Damien de Veuster
Le « Père Damien », de la Congrégation des missionnaires des Saints Cœurs de Jésus et Marie se dévoua entièrement au service des lépreux de Kalavai, sur l'île océanienne de Molokai. Ayant contracté la maladie à son tour, il en mourut le 15 avril 1889.
Saint Damien de Molokaï ou la compassion de Dieu
Père Bernard Couronne, ss. cc.
« Je suis réputé attaqué moi-même de la terrible maladie. Les microbes de la lèpre se sont finalement nichés dans ma jambe gauche et dans mon oreille. Ma paupière commence à tomber. Il m’est impossible de me rendre encore à Honolulu parce que la lèpre devient visible. Bientôt ma figure sera endommagée, je suppose. Étant sûr que la maladie est réelle, je reste calme et résigné et je suis même plus heureux parmi mon monde. Le bon Dieu sait ce qui est mieux pour ma sanctification et dans cette conviction je dis tous les jours un bon fiat voluntas tuas. »
5 octobre 1886
Le Père Damien de Molokaï représente beaucoup pour les Amis des enfants. Il est comme un premier de cordée dans la grande aventure de l’amour de compassion. Il a aimé les lépreux de l’île de Molokaï dont il a choisi d’être le prêtre jusqu’à devenir lui-même lépreux et mourir de cette terrible maladie. Il représente même tant que nous avons choisi de mettre sous sa protection la Fraternité de ceux qui, parmi les Amis des enfants, se sentent appelés à consacrer toute leur vie à Dieu et aux pauvres dans l’Œuvre Points-Cœur.
La brûlure de l’appel
Sur le chemin qui le ramène à sa ferme de Ninde près de Tremelo, Frans De Veuster a le cœur gros. Ce solide paysan flamand vient de laisser son « Jef » au couvent des Sacrés-Cœurs à Louvain (Belgique) où il rejoint son aîné Auguste. Que va dire Anne-Catherine, son épouse, quand elle le verra rentrer seul ? Ces derniers temps, il est vrai, le comportement de Joseph qui vient de fêter ses dix-neuf ans en ce début de janvier 1859, a surpris les siens. Ses parents qui comptaient sur lui pour développer leur commerce de grains l’ont inscrit à l’Ecole moyenne de Braine-le-Comte. Il s’agit d’une « remise à niveau » nécessaire : à quatorze ans, Joseph a arrêté ses études pour aider à la ferme. Malgré le retard et son ignorance du français, le jeune homme intelligent et travailleur progresse rapidement. À Tremelo, cependant, on devine que quelque chose le travaille qui ne correspond guère aux projets des parents. Ainsi, en juillet 1858, à l’occasion de la profession religieuse de sa sœur Pauline – la deuxième de ses sœurs à choisir la vie religieuse – ne laisse-t-il pas percer, dans une lettre, son désir de « suivre » son frère Auguste entré chez les Picpuciens (nom usuel donné aux membres de la Congrégation des Sacrés-Cœurs dont la première maison à Paris fut installée rue de Picpus) à Louvain ?
À Noël de cette même année, les parents de Veuster doivent se rendre à l’évidence : leur fils choisit une autre voie que celle du commerce. « Ce jour [de Noël] m’a confirmé, leur écrit-il, que la volonté du bon Dieu est que je quitte le monde pour embrasser la vie religieuse… Vous ne me le refuserez pas, car c’est Dieu qui appelle et je dois obéir. Auguste m’a écrit que je serais certainement reçu chez eux comme frère de chœur, que je dois me présenter sans délai à son Supérieur pour la nouvelle année, pour commencer sous peu mon noviciat. »
Voilà qui est fait ! La brûlure de l’appel était trop vive pour ce cœur ardent. Il a l’âge de toutes les audaces, de toutes les folies, pensent les gens raisonnables. Il ne le sait pas encore ou du moins est-il incapable de l’exprimer : ce feu qui le pousse de l’avant est celui de « l’ambition de l’Amour ». Elle a sa source dans le Cœur de Dieu. Elle ne le laissera plus jamais en repos.
Anne-Catherine essuie quelques larmes : son « Jef » lui échappe… Elle se souvient. Il n’a pas encore dix ans. Sur le chemin de l’école, avec ses frères et sœurs, il rencontre un jeune mendiant qui, pour apaiser sa faim, se contenterait bien de l’un des gâteaux dorés… « Donnons-lui tout, lance Joseph, ce pauvre garçon est toujours dans le besoin ! » Les gâteaux disparaissent dans la musette du mendiant… Et le déjeuner des enfants De Veuster tourne court. Mais qu’importe, la demi-mesure aurait été bien plus lourde à digérer pour le petit Jef. Cœur sensible, caractère entier, Anne-Catherine l’a vu grandir et devenir un solide jeune homme « adroit et intelligent comme quatre… capable de soulever comme rien des sacs de cent kilos. » C’est sûr, un jour ou l’autre, Jef devait les quitter…
L’offrande du grain de blé
Le 2 février 1859, il prend l’habit et commence son noviciat. Désormais, il est le frère Damien. « Silence, recueillement, prière » sont pour lui les maîtres-mots de ce temps (18 mois) de préparation à la profession religieuse. En cours de route, alertés par son frère Auguste, ses supérieurs découvrent ses capacités intellectuelles et l’admettent parmi ceux qui poursuivront leurs études en vue du sacerdoce. Chaque jour, discrètement, il monte à la tribune de la chapelle où se trouve une peinture de saint François-Xavier. « Je supplie le bon Dieu, confie-t-il à son maître des novices, par l’intercession de saint François Xavier, de m’accorder la grâce d’être, un jour, envoyé en mission. »
Voilà un novice bien sérieux et plein d’idéal ! Damien, pourtant, n’a pas laissé sa gaieté naturelle à la porte du couvent. « Nous rions trop », s’inquiète son frère tandis que le P. Caprais assure qu’il n’a jamais rencontré « un caractère plus sociable et plus aimable ».
C’est à Paris (rue de Picpus), le 7 octobre 1860, qu’il fait sa profession religieuse par laquelle il se consacre aux « Sacrés-Cœurs de Jésus et de Marie au service desquels il veut vivre et mourir. » Après avoir prononcé leurs vœux, les profès se prosternent et on étend sur eux le drap mortuaire. Le Supérieur général qui préside la cérémonie prie : « Dieu, Toi qui veux que morts au monde nous vivions dans le Christ, guide Tes serviteurs sur le chemin du Salut. Que leur vie soit cachée dans le Christ… » Tandis qu’il se relève de la prostration, Damien comprend que nul ne peut aimer et servir comme Jésus s’il ne meurt à lui-même tel le grain de blé mis en terre… Ce rite laisse en lui une empreinte indélébile : aux étapes décisives de son existence, il y fera référence. Et désormais, quand nous l’entendrons évoquer ce qui doit mourir en lui, il nous faudra comprendre qu’il parle de naissance, de résurrection, de « vie en Christ »… Au bas de l’acte de profession, sa signature vigoureuse et appuyée traduit se résolution et laisse deviner une émotion intense. Avec l’ardeur de ses vingt ans, il offre sa vie dans un élan d’amour. Ce don sans retour le greffe sur celui du Christ pour devenir, en Lui, serviteur du dessein d’Amour du Père. La réponse de Damien à l’appel de Dieu n’est pas une décision froide et raisonnée. Ce jeune homme – comme on peut l’être à son âge – est amoureux. Et cet Amour est une passion. Le voilà prêt à supporter mille morts pour aimer à la manière de Jésus. La liturgie de sa profession est un rite nuptial : il décide de mourir à lui-même, de ne plus penser à lui… car, aujourd’hui, il épouse la Passion de Dieu pour le bonheur de l’homme ! « Leur vocation est toute de zèle et d’un zèle en¾ammé, aimait à dire le fondateur de la Congrégation parlant de ses disciples. Ils doivent se sacrifier par zèle pour le Seigneur : ils manqueront à leur vœu le plus essentiel dès le moment où ils voudront vivre pour eux seuls et ne pas travailler au salut de leurs frères. »
Sur ces sentiers évangéliques où, conduit par l’appel de Dieu, il rejoint toute une famille religieuse, la Congrégation des Sacrés-Cœurs de Jésus et de Marie, Damien se sent chez lui, irrévocablement.
L’urgence d’aimer et de servir
Le voilà, frère étudiant, d’abord à Paris et à partir du 25 septembre 1861 à Louvain. « Son amour pour l’étude est extrême, assure un de ses condisciples. Que de courage, que d’efforts pour apprendre. Ses progrès sont rapides car il a un esprit ouvert et un jugement solide. De plus, il possède une puissance de travail peu commune qui lui permet de prolonger ses veilles bien au-delà des limites ordinaires. Il passe avec aisance des études les plus sérieuses au repos de la récréation ou au recueillement. »
Malgré la monotonie et l’austérité de cette vie conventuelle son cœur reste en éveil. Chaque jour, à l’Adoration, il prend dans son intercession les frères et les sœurs de sa famille religieuse en mission en Amérique du Sud, dans les îles du Pacifique, en Californie… Quelle fête quand l’un d’eux s’arrête à Paris ou à Louvain et parle à ses jeunes frères de sa vie missionnaire ! Damien a des fourmis dans les jambes et « le cœur tout brûlant »… Mais il faut retourner aux études !
Son frère, ordonné prêtre le 28 février 1863, est sur la liste du prochain départ pour l’Océanie. Une épidémie de typhus éclate à Louvain et le jeune prêtre se dévoue sans compter au chevet des malades jusqu’au jour où il est, lui-même atteint. « Jamais il ne sera sur pied pour partir vers les îles », pronostique son cadet. L’occasion est trop belle, pourquoi ne partirait-il pas à la place de son aîné ? Avec le consentement de ce dernier, il rédige sa demande. Va-t-on le laisser partir alors qu’il n’a pas encore achevé son séminaire ? Quelques jours après, la réponse du Supérieur général lui parvient : il part !
Le moment est enfin venu pour Damien d’aimer et de servir à la mesure de son cœur totalement livré à l’Amour de Jésus comme celui de Marie !
Le temps presse maintenant. Nous sommes en octobre et le départ est fixé au 1er novembre. Notre futur missionnaire court à Tremelo annoncer la nouvelle. La famille se rassemble autour de son « Jef ». On parle longuement, le cœur serré. Chacun sait, ici, qu’on ne reverra plus ce fils, ce frère très aimé. C’est au pied de Notre-Dame de Montaigu qu’il tient à faire ses adieux à sa mère. « Le sacrifice est grand, écrit-il quelques jours plus tard, pour un cœur qui affectionne tendrement ses parents, sa famille, ses confrères et ce pays qui l’a vu naître. Mais la voix qui nous a invités, qui nous appelle à faire généreusement cette offrande de tout ce que nous avons est la voix de Dieu même. C’est Notre Seigneur qui nous dit comme à ses premiers Apôtres : “Allez enseigner toutes les nations, leur apprenant à observer tous mes commandements. Et voici que je suis avec vous jusqu’à la fin des siècles.” Jésus Christ est d’une manière particulière avec les missionnaires. »
C’est « avec un courage véritablement apostolique », note Damien que le 8 novembre 1863, il embarque avec six frères et dix sœurs de sa Congrégation sur le RW-Wood à Brême (Allemagne). Ils atteindront les îles Hawaï le 19 mars de l’année suivante.
Avant de quitter Paris, Damien a envoyé aux siens une photographie. Devant l’objectif il a pris l’attitude de saint François Xavier présentant la croix du Christ aux païens. Tout un programme !
Avec la fougue – les illusions et les rêves – de sa jeunesse, Damien va de l’avant. Les yeux fixés sur le Christ, il s’efforcera de faire de l’Amour en forme de service son métier d’homme.
Kalawao, le village des lépreux, est en effervescence. Le Docteur Fitch, médecin attitré de la léproserie, arrive accompagné d’étrangers encore sonnés par la vertigineuse descente du « pali » 2 qui sépare la presqu’île du reste de l’île de Molokaï. La petite troupe se dirige vers l’église à l’autre bout du village.
« La porte de l’enclos de la Mission nous est ouverte par une troupe de joyeux gamins, raconte Charles Stoddard, professeur à l’université Notre-Dame (Indiana, États-Unis), ils sont tous défigurés par la lèpre. La porte de la chapelle est entrebâillée. En un instant, elle est ouverte et un jeune prêtre paraît sur le seuil pour nous souhaiter la bienvenue. Sa soutane est usée et décolorée, ses cheveux ébouriffés comme ceux d’un écolier, ses mains tâchées et durcies par le travail, le visage éclatant de santé, l’allure juvénile… C’est le Père Damien. »
« Son rire bruyant, sa sympathie empressée et le magnétisme contagieux de sa personne » 3 impressionnent l’universitaire et ses compagnons.
Une prompte charité
Lorsque Charles Stoddard lui rend visite en cette fin d’octobre 1884, Damien est parmi les lépreux de Molokaï depuis onze ans. Il y a débarqué un jour de mai 1873. Encore, un coup de tête, aux dires de certains. Cette année-là, Monseigneur Hilaire Maigret, vicaire apostolique des îles Hawaï 4, est venu bénir une église sur l’île voisine où il exerce son sacerdoce depuis une dizaine d’années. Le vieil évêque s’entretient avec ses missionnaires, rassemblés pour l’occasion, de la situation des catholiques lépreux de Molokaï. Depuis 1866, le Gouvernement de l’archipel parque les lépreux sur une langue de terre désolée de l’île. À cette époque, la ségrégation est la seule parade possible contre la maladie. Une fois les lépreux déposés sur le rivage, l’administration se préoccupe fort peu du sort des malades. Un missionnaire passe de temps en temps à Kalawao. C’est trop peu, pense l’évêque. Avant qu’il ait fini de parler, Damien bondit et se propose. Monseigneur Maigret, surpris, accepte. Le Père Damien séjournera quelques semaines à Kalawao, ensuite un autre missionnaire prendra la relève. Damien ne l’entend pas ainsi. Sa décision est prise, définitive comme toujours : « Joseph, mon garçon, se dit-il, en voilà pour la vie ! » Il n’emporte rien avec lui, si ce n’est son bréviaire et son chapelet. Ce samedi 10 mai 1873, Damien se hâte vers ses ouailles de Molokaï avec pour seul bagage, cette compassion de Dieu qu’il a épousée au jour de sa profession religieuse en mettant ses pas dans ceux de Jésus. « Lui aussi, dans sa divine charité, consola les lépreux, écrit-il alors, si je ne puis les guérir comme lui, au moins je puis les consoler. » Ni médecin, ni infirmier, il n’a que sa présence affectueuse et surtout les sacrements de l’Église à offrir à un peuple de moribonds.
Des épousailles dans les larmes
À Honolulu, les journaux protestants, habituellement peu amènes pour la Mission catholique, font l’éloge du Père Damien « qui volontiers s’est offert à vivre avec les lépreux et pour eux » et n’hésitent pas à le proclamer « héros chrétien ». Cependant les premiers contacts sont difficiles : « Leurs doigts de pieds et des mains sont quasiment mangés et exhalent une odeur fétide, leur haleine également empoisonne l’air, raconte-t-il. J’ai beaucoup de peine à m’y habituer… Ils sont hideux à voir », mais, ajoute-t-il aussitôt, « ils ont une âme rachetée au prix du Sang adorable de notre divin Sauveur ! » Alors, comment ne pas les aimer ! Il va de case en case. Il se fait tout à tous à sa manière un peu brouillonne, quelquefois impulsive. « Du matin au soir, je suis au milieu des misères physiques et morales qui navrent le cœur, cependant, je tâche de me montrer toujours gai afin de relever le courage de mes infirmes… Mon plus grand bonheur, ajoute-t-il, est de servir le Seigneur dans ces pauvres enfants malades, repoussés par les autres hommes. » Pas question, de laisser sa place à un autre ! Deux jours seulement après son arrivée à Kalawao, sa résolution est prise : « Vous connaissez ma disposition, écrit-il à ses Supérieurs, je veux me sacrifier à mes pauvres lépreux ». Quelques mois plus tard, il confie à son frère : « Je me fais lépreux avec les lépreux. Quand je prêche, c’est ma tournure “nous autres lépreux”. Puissè-je les gagner tous au Christ comme Saint Paul ! » C’est dire combien il a épousé au nom du Christ la cause des lépreux. La compassion, au prix du « sacrifice de sa vie », abolit les distances entre les êtres : Dieu y célèbre ses noces avec l’humanité.
Une dévorante fécondité
Les visites aux malades, l’accompagnement des mourants ne suffisent pas à l’ardeur dévorante du curé de Kalawao.La lèpre gangrène les corps, elle corrompt également les cœurs.
Les enfants, sans défense, en sont les premières victimes. Damien crée un orphelinat pour les jeunes filles lépreuses plus exposées. Celui des garçons suit peu après. « Depuis quelque mois, raconte-t-il à ses correspondants européens, j’ai un petit orphelinat de jeunes enfants lépreuses, dont une bonne veuve, non-lépreuse, elle, et déjà avancée en âge, est la mère et la cuisinière, notre cuisine se fait ensemble et nous partageons nos provisions… Il est plus ou moins rebutant à la nature d’être entouré de ces malheureux enfants ; mais j’y trouve ma consolation. »
L’œil avisé du paysan flamand ne tarde pas à percevoir d’autres besoins et pas seulement dans le domaine moral ou thérapeutique. Pour Damien de Molokaï tendre la main aux lépreux comme le Christ entraîne plus loin que la catéchèse, la célébration des sacrements ou les soins à domicile. Le meilleur remède contre la lèpre des corps et des cœurs lui paraît être de mobiliser ce qui leur reste d’énergie autour de projets collectifs au profit de tous. Les initiatives se succèdent à perdre haleine : rénovation et assainissement de l’habitat, adduction d’eau, construction d’une route, ouverture d’un magasin, sans oublier l’organisation de courses de chevaux et la création d’une fanfare. Pour autant, le missionnaire de Molokaï ne néglige pas sa tâche pastorale. Bien au contraire ! La lèpre inguérissable détruit les personnes. Toute l’action pastorale de Damien vise à leur redonner le goût de vivre. N’est-ce pas le meilleur remède ? L’église Sainte-Philomène qu’il a dû agrandir devient le centre d’une paroisse dynamique : des équipes s’organisent pour la visite des malades et l’adoration perpétuelle. Les enterrements quasi quotidiens n’ont plus rien de lugubre : la fanfare paroissiale en fait une fête. Cette terre, hier aride, aujourd’hui revit. Aimant les lépreux à la manière du Christ-Serviteur, Damien met en œuvre la puissance de la Résurrection dans ce lieu de mort. Seul l’Amour est capable de faire refleurir des déserts d’humanité.
Une Passion bienheureuse
Damien à Molokaï rend l’Amour plus contagieux que la lèpre. De partout dans le monde, on lui prodigue éloges et encouragements. Les dons et les bénévoles affluent L’humble missionnaire de Molokaï a inventé avant l’heure « l’humanitaire ». Grâce à lui, l’assistance aux lépreux devient une cause mondiale.
Gandhi considérait que « le monde de la politique et du journalisme ne connaît pas de héros dont il peut se glorifier et qui soit comparable au Père Damien de Molokaï. » Il conseillait à ses disciples de « rechercher à quelle source s’alimente un tel héroïsme ». Pourquoi Damien est-il allé s’ensevelir sur ce bout de terre inhospitalière au milieu d’individus repoussants ? La réponse vient, le jour où, en 1885, il se découvre lépreux après avoir longtemps espéré être épargné. « C’est bien par le souvenir d’avoir été couché sous le drap mortuaire, le jour de mes vœux, écrit-il à son évêque, que j’ai bravé le danger de contracter cette terrible maladie en faisant mon devoir ici et tâchant de mourir de plus en plus à moi-même. » Le secret de l’héroïsme de Damien de Molokaï a un nom : Jésus Christ dans le mystère de sa Mort et de sa Résurrection. Jésus Christ dans l’élan de cet Amour manifesté sous le signe du Cœur blessé.
Nul ne peut prétendre communier au mystère pascal de Jésus, vivre sa consécration baptismale, s’il n’a le cœur ouvert par et à la détresse de ses frères. C’est par cette déchirure que s’engouffre la Passion de Dieu pour l’humanité. Le lourd manteau de la lèpre le recouvre comme naguère le drap mortuaire de sa profession religieuse ; il prend l’habit du lépreux et se charge de la croix du Christ. « J’ai accepté cette maladie, confie-t-il à son frère, comme une croix spéciale ; je tâche de la porter comme Simon le Cyrénéen en suivant les traces de son divin Maître. » À la maladie viennent s’ajouter les angoisses de la solitude – il est longtemps le seul prêtre de l’île – les incompréhensions de ses supérieurs, les calomnies et les jalousies. Le voilà, enfin, identifié au « lépreux devant lequel on se voile la face ; maltraité, il s’humilie ; broyé de souffrance, il fait de sa vie un sacrifice, à cause de ses souffrances, à cause de son Amour, il verra la lumière » (Is, 53). Sur les sentiers escarpés de la compassion, dans le cœur de Damien, Dieu consomme ses noces avec les lépreux de Molokaï « pour qu’ils aient la vie en abondance ».
Le missionnaire le plus heureux du monde
La Croix semble l’anéantir. C’est alors qu’il écrit cette phrase incroyable : « La joie et le contentement du cœur que me procurent les Sacrés-Cœurs [de Jésus et de Marie] font que je me crois être le missionnaire le plus heureux du monde ! » Le bonheur des Béatitudes égrenées par Jésus paraît étrange à qui n’en fait pas l’expérience. Celui que l’Église, en écho à la voix du prêcheur de Galilée, proclamera Bienheureux le 4 juin 1995 puis Saint le 11 octobre 2009 sait où il puise cette joie et cette paix. « Notre ministère, note-t-il dans son carnet de retraite, demande un Amour tendre pour notre Seigneur, une force de courage inaltérable dans le travail et une patience invincible dans la souffrance. L’Eucharistie est le Pain des forts dont nous avons besoin. » À qui veut trouver, pour s’y désaltérer, la source de l’héroïque compassion du Père Damien et le secret de son bonheur, il faut le rejoindre dans son adoration matinale précédant la célébration de sa messe. « Sans la présence de notre divin Maître à l’autel de mes pauvres chapelles, je n’aurais pu persévérer à jeter mon sort avec les lépreux de Molokaï… Comme la sainte communion est le Pain de tous les jours, je me sens heureux ! »
Jour après jour, il y rencontre Celui auquel il a donné sa vie et de qui il reçoit tout. Jésus Christ est là dans la puissance de son Mystère de mort et de vie qui se saisit de ce cœur disponible pour aimer. Sur ce rocher perdu du Pacifique, inconnu jusqu’alors, la compassion de Dieu fait des merveilles. Lorsque le père Damien consumé par sa lèpre s’éteint le 15 avril 1889, il est aussi célèbre que Mère Teresa aujourd’hui. Par-delà le siècle qui les sépare une connivence naît entre ces deux champions de la compassion. Le 4 juin 1995, malgré la fatigue qui se lit sur son visage raviné par tant de souffrances sur lesquelles elle s’est penchée, la Mère des mourants de Calcutta est là, sur cette place de Bruxelles, au premier rang, assistant à la célébration de béatification du prêtre lépreux de Molokaï.
Elle entend le Successeur de Pierre proclamer : « Damien est de retour ! Comme un frère aîné, désormais configuré au Christ, il vous montre le chemin de la sainteté et le secret du bonheur ! » Ô toi qui lis ces lignes, puisse son témoignage et sa prière élargir ton cœur aux dimensions du monde. « C’est l’ambition que Dieu propose à chacun, l’ambition d’un Amour sans limites ! » (Cardinal J.-M. Lustiger).
1840 : 3 janvier, Naissance de Joseph de Veuster, au village de Tremelo, en Belgique.
1858 : Joseph entre à l’école moyenne de Braine-le-Comte (Belgique) pour y apprendre le francais.
1859 : 2 février, Joseph de Veuster prend l’habit religieux chez les Pères des Sacrés-Cœurs de Picpus à Louvain, en Belgique. Il prend le nom de Damien et rejoint ainsi son frère Pamphile dans le même Institut.
1863 : Départ pour les îles Hawaï, le 30 octobre
1864 : 4 mai, Ordination sacerdotale en la cathédrale d’Honolulu, à Hawaï.
1873 : Le Père Damien de Veuster est missionnaire dans les diverses îles de l’Archipel des Hawaii dans le Pacifique. Ouverture de la léproserie de Molokaï en 1866.
1873 : 10 mai, entrée du Père Damien à la léproserie de Molokaï.
1884 : En fin de cette année, le Père Damien se découvre lépreux. Alertée par la presse, l’opinion internationale s’émeut du sort des lépreux.
1889 : Le 1er avril, le Père Damien meurt lépreux.
SOURCE : http://www.pointscoeur.org/molokai/Damien_de_Molokai.html
Saint Damien de Molokai (Joseph de Veuster)
Prêtre - Religieux Picpus (✝ 1889)
Né à Tremelo (Belgique) le 03.01.1840 Retourné à Dieu le 15.04.1889 à Molokaï (Hawaï) Béatifié le 04.06.1995 par Jean-Paul II à Bruxelles.
Joseph de Veuster naît dans une famille belge de langue flamande au village de Tremelo en 1840. Il est le septième de huit enfants dont quatre entreront en religion. Il suit l’un de ses frères dans la Congrégation des Sacrés Cœur de Jésus et Marie (ou Pères de Picpus), prenant le nom de Damien. Il y développe son amour de l’adoration eucharistique qui sera son seul soutien dans les heures de solitude, et son amour de la Sainte Vierge. Dans son ardeur missionnaire, le jeune religieux s’adresse directement au supérieur général et obtient la permission de partir, à la place de son frère tombé malade, dans la mission nouvellement fondée aux îles Hawaï. Il s’embarque avant même son ordination sacerdotale qui lui sera conférée à Honolulu. Le gouvernement avait regroupé d’autorité tous les lépreux de l’archipel dans l’île Molokaï, le Père Damien est choisi parmi d’autres volontaires pour assurer une présence sacerdotale dans cet enfer de désespoir et de misère morale. Il organise alors la vie religieuse, sociale et fraternelle dans cette île mise au ban de la société. Il se solidarise avec les lépreux (il aimait dire: "nous les lépreux") et même, malgré ses précautions, il est atteint à son tour par la maladie. “Qu’il est doux de mourir comme un enfant du Sacré-cœur”, disait-il à son dernier jour. Il avait souhaité que ce fut le jour de Pâques; ce fut le Lundi Saint, 15 avril 1889. source Abbaye Saint Benoît de Port-Valais
"Construire un monde plus juste en solidarité avec les plus pauvres"
Le Père Damien: Le plus grand Belge de tous les temps (Action Damien)
Béatifié par le Pape Jean-Paul II le 4 juin 1995
Biographie sur le site site officiel de la Province de France des Frères et du Secteur France des Sœurs de la Congrégation des Sacrés-Cœurs (dite de Picpus).
Il est canonisé le 11 octobre 2009 et une 'année Damien' s'est ouverte à Louvain le 10 mai 2009 (catho.be).
Canonisation de Jeanne Jugan et de Damien de Veuster - dossier sur le site internet de l'Eglise catholique en France.
"Le Père Damien, dans le siècle Jozef De Veuster, membre de la Congrégation des Sacrés Cœurs de Jésus et de Marie, a quitté sa terre natale, les Flandres, pour annoncer l’évangile aux îles Hawaii et a consacré la dernière partie de sa vie aux lépreux sur l’île de Molokaï, devenant lui-même lépreux.
En ce 20e anniversaire de la canonisation d’un autre saint belge, le Frère Mutien-Marie, l’Eglise en Belgique - a relevé Benoît XVI dans son homélie - est unie une nouvelle fois pour rendre grâce à Dieu pour l’un de ses fils reconnu comme un authentique serviteur de Dieu. Nous nous souvenons devant cette noble figure que c’est la charité qui fait l’unité: elle l’enfante et la rend désirable. À la suite de saint Paul, saint Damien nous entraîne à choisir les bons combats (cf. 1 Tim 1, 18), non pas ceux qui portent la division, mais ceux qui rassemblent. Il nous invite à ouvrir les yeux sur les lèpres qui défigurent l’humanité de nos frères et appellent encore aujourd’hui, plus que notre générosité, la charité de notre présence servante."
(source: Radio Vaticana - Cinq nouveaux saints pour l'Eglise universelle - 11 octobre 2009)
La fête liturgique de Saint Damien de Molokaï est le 10 mai:
Il aurait été logique de fêter Damien au jour de sa mort (Dies Natalis), le 15 avril. Mais, désirant mettre en relief la figure de Damien, lors de la béatification de l'Apôtre des Lépreux en 1995, et souhaitant éviter que celle-ci ne tombe lors de la Pâque, Jean-Paul II, a souhaité fixer ce jour au 10 mai. Cela correspond à l'arrivée de Joseph Damien de Veuster à la léproserie de Molokaï. (site de la congrégation des sacrés cœurs de Jésus et de Marie - Picpus - France)
À Kalawao, dans l’île de Molokai en Océanie, l’an 1889, Damien de Veuster, prêtre de la Congrégation des Missionnaires des Saints Coeurs de Jésus et de Marie, qui se dévoua tellement de tout son cœur au service des lépreux qu’il contracta lui-même la lèpre et en mourut.
le Bienheureux P. Damien de Veuster descendit dans la léproserie de Molokai – considérée alors "le cimetière et l’enfer des vivants" – et, dès sa première prédication, il embrassa tous ces malheureux en disant simplement: "Nous lépreux." Et au premier malade qui lui dit: "Attention, Père, vous pourriez attraper mon mal", il répondit: "Mon fils, si la maladie m’emporte le corps, Dieu m’en donnera un autre."
SOURCE : http://nominis.cef.fr/contenus/saint/9930/Saint-Damien-de-Molokai-(Joseph-de-Veuster).html
POUR LA CANONISATION DES BIENHEUREUX:
ZYGMUNT SZCZĘSNY FELIŃSKI (1822 – 1895)
FRANCISCO COLL Y GUITART (1812 – 1875)
JOZEF DAMIAAN DE VEUSTER (1840 – 1889)
RAFAEL ARNÁIZ BARÓN (1911 – 1938)
MARIE DE LA CROIX (JEANNE) JUGAN (1792 – 1879)
HOMÉLIE DU PAPE BENOÎT XVI
Dimanche 11 octobre 2009
Chers frères et sœurs!
"Que dois-je faire pour avoir en héritage la vie éternelle?". C'est par cette question que commence le bref dialogue que nous avons écouté dans la page de l'Evangile entre un personnage, ailleurs identifié comme le jeune homme riche, et Jésus (cf. Mc 10, 17-30). Nous n'avons pas beaucoup de détails concernant ce personnage anonyme; de ces quelques traits, nous arrivons cependant à percevoir son désir sincère de parvenir à la vie éternelle en conduisant une honnête et vertueuse existence terrestre. Il connaît en effet les commandements et les observe fidèlement depuis le début de sa jeunesse. Et pourtant, tout ceci, qui est certes important, ne suffit pas - dit Jésus - une seule chose manque, mais elle est essentielle. En le voyant alors bien disposé, le divin Maître le fixe avec amour et lui propose le saut de qualité, l'appelle à l'héroïsme de la sainteté et lui demande de tout abandonner pour le suivre: "Vends tout ce que tu as, donne-le aux pauvres (...) puis viens et suis-moi" (v. 21).
"Viens et suis-moi!". Voilà la vocation chrétienne qui jaillit d'une proposition d'amour du Seigneur et qui ne peut se réaliser que grâce à notre réponse d'amour. Jésus invite ses disciples au don total de leur vie, sans calcul ni intérêt humain, avec une confiance sans réserve en Dieu. Les saints accueillent cette invitation exigeante et se mettent, avec une humble docilité, à la suite du Christ crucifié et ressuscité. Leur perfection, dans la logique de la foi parfois humainement incompréhensible, consiste à ne plus se mettre au centre, mais à choisir d'aller à contre-courant en vivant selon l'Evangile. C'est ce qu'ont fait les cinq saints qui sont proposés aujourd'hui, avec grande joie, à la vénération de l'Eglise universelle: Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, Francisco Coll y Guitart, Jozef Damiaan de Veuster, Rafael Arnáiz Barón, et Marie de la Croix (Jeanne) Jugan. En eux, nous contemplons la réalisation des paroles de l'apôtre Pierre: "Voilà que nous avons tout quitté pour te suivre" (v. 28) et la consolante promesse de Jésus: "personne n'aura quitté, à cause de moi et de l'Evangile, une maison, des frères, des sœurs, une mère, un père, des enfants ou une terre, sans qu'il reçoive, en ce temps déjà, le centuple: ... avec des persécutions, et, dans le monde à venir, la vie éternelle" (vv 29-30).
Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, Archevêque de Varsovie, fondateur de la Congrégation des Sœurs Franciscaines de la Famille de Marie, a été un grand témoin de la foi et de la charité pastorale à une époque très difficile pour la nation et pour l'Eglise en Pologne. Il s'occupait avec ferveur de la croissance spirituelle de ses fidèles, aidait les pauvres et les orphelins. A l'Académie ecclésiastique de Saint-Pétersbourg, il prit grand soin de la formation des prêtres. En tant qu'Archevêque de Varsovie, il invita avec ferveur tous les fidèles à un renouveau intérieur. Avant l'insurrection de 1863 contre l'annexion russe, il mit en garde le peuple contre une inutile effusion de sang. Quand pourtant l'émeute éclata et que les persécutions s'ensuivirent, il défendit courageusement les opprimés. Sur ordre du tsar russe, il passa vingt ans en exil à Jaroslaw sur la Volga, sans jamais pouvoir rentrer dans son diocèse. Il conserva en toute situation sa foi inébranlable dans la Providence divine et priait ainsi: "Ô, Dieu, protège-nous des tribulations et des inquiétudes de ce monde... multiplie l'amour dans nos cœurs et fais que nous conservions avec la plus profonde humilité la confiance infinie dans Ton aide et dans Ta miséricorde...". Aujourd'hui, que son don de soi à Dieu et aux hommes, empli de confiance et d'amour, devienne un exemple éclatant pour toute l'Eglise.
Saint Paul nous rappelle dans la deuxième lecture que "la Parole de Dieu est vivante et énergique" (He 4, 12). En elle, le Père qui est aux cieux, converse amoureusement avec ses fils de tous les temps (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 21), leur communiquant son amour infini et, de cette manière, les encourageant, les consolant et leur offrant son dessein de salut pour l'humanité et pour chaque personne. Conscient de cela, saint Francisco Coll se consacra avec acharnement à la propager, accomplissant ainsi fidèlement sa vocation dans l'Ordre des Prêcheurs, dans lequel il fit profession. Sa passion était d'aller prêcher, en grande partie de manière itinérante et suivant la forme des "missions populaires" pour annoncer et raviver la Parole de Dieu dans les villages et les villes de la Catalogne, aidant ainsi les personnes à une rencontre profonde avec Lui. Une rencontre qui porte à la conversion du cœur, à recevoir avec joie la grâce divine et à maintenir un dialogue constant avec Notre Seigneur par la prière. Pour lui, son activité d'évangélisation comprenait un grand dévouement au Sacrement de la Réconciliation, une emphase remarquable sur l'Eucharistie et une insistance constante sur la prière. Francisco Coll atteignait le cœur des autres parce qu'il transmettait ce que lui-même vivait intérieurement avec passion, ce qui brûlait ardemment dans son cœur: l'amour du Christ, son dévouement total à Lui. Pour que la semence de la Parole de Dieu rencontre un terrain fertile, Francisco fonda la Congrégation des Sœurs Dominicaines de l'Annonciation, dans le but de donner une éducation intégrale aux enfants et aux jeunes, de façon à ce qu'ils puissent découvrir la richesse insondable qu'est le Christ, l'ami fidèle qui ne nous abandonne jamais ni ne se lasse d'être à nos côtés, renforçant notre espérance avec sa Parole de vie.
Jozef De Veuster, qui reçut le nom de Damiaan dans la Congrégation des Sacrés Cœurs de Jésus et de Marie, quitta la Flandre, son pays natal, en 1863, à l'âge de 23 ans, pour annoncer l'Évangile à l'autre bout du monde, sur les îles Hawaï. Son activité missionnaire, qui l'a tellement rempli de joie, atteint son sommet dans la charité. Non sans peur et sans répugnance, il fit le choix d'aller sur l'île de Molokai au service des lépreux qui s'y trouvaient, abandonnés de tous; c'est ainsi qu'il s'exposa à la maladie dont ils souffraient. Il se sentait chez lui avec eux. Le serviteur de la Parole devint ainsi un serviteur souffrant, lépreux parmi les lépreux, au cours des quatre dernières années de sa vie. Pour suivre le Christ, le Père Damien n'a pas seulement quitté sa patrie, mais a également mis en jeu sa santé: c'est pour cela - comme le dit la parole de Jésus qui a été annoncée dans l'Evangile d'aujourd'hui - qu'il a reçu la vie éternelle (cf. Mc 10, 30). En ce 20 anniversaire de la canonisation d'un autre saint belge, le Frère Mutien-Marie, l'Église en Belgique est unie une nouvelle fois pour rendre grâce à Dieu pour l'un de ses fils reconnu comme un authentique serviteur de Dieu. Nous nous souvenons devant cette noble figure que c'est la charité qui fait l'unité: elle l'enfante et la rend désirable. À la suite de saint Paul, saint Damien nous entraîne à choisir les bons combats (cf. 1 Tm 1, 18), non pas ceux qui portent la division, mais ceux qui rassemblent. Il nous invite à ouvrir les yeux sur les lèpres qui défigurent l'humanité de nos frères et appellent encore aujourd'hui, plus que notre générosité, la charité de notre présence servante.
En revenant à l'Evangile d'aujourd'hui, à la figure du jeune qui présente à Jésus son désir d'être bien plus qu'un bon exécuteur des devoirs que lui imposent la loi, répond la figure de Frère Rafael, canonisé aujourd'hui, mort à vingt-sept ans comme Oblat de la Trappe de San Isidro de Dueñas. Même s'il était de famille aisée et, comme il le disait lui-même, d'"âme un peu rêveuse", ses rêves ne se dissipèrent pas devant l'attachement aux biens matériels et à d'autres buts que la vie du monde propose parfois avec grande insistance. Il répondit oui à la proposition de suivre Jésus, de manière immédiate et décidée, sans limites ni conditions. De cette manière, il entreprit un chemin qui, du moment où il se rendit compte dans le Monastère, qu'il "ne savait pas prier", le porta en quelques années au sommet de sa vie spirituelle qu'il relate avec une grande simplicité et un grand naturel dans de nombreux écrits. Frère Rafael, encore proche de nous, continue à nous offrir par son exemple et son œuvre un parcours attractif, en particulier pour les jeunes qui ne se contentent pas facilement, mais aspirent à la plénitude de la vérité, à la plus indicible joie que l'on atteint pour l'amour de Dieu. "Vie d'amour... C'est là la seule raison de vivre" dit le nouveau Saint. Et il insiste: "De l'amour de Dieu provient toute chose". Que le Seigneur écoute avec bienveillance l'une des dernières prières de Saint Rafael Arnáiz, lorsqu'il lui remit toute sa vie en suppliant: "Prends moi et donne-Toi au monde". Qui se donne pour ranimer la vie intérieure des chrétiens d'aujourd'hui. Qui se donne pour que ses frères de la Trappe et les centres monastiques continuent à être le phare qui permet de découvrir le désir intime de Dieu qu'il a placé dans tout cœur humain.
Par son œuvre admirable au service des personnes âgées les plus démunies, Sainte Marie de la Croix est aussi comme un phare pour guider nos sociétés qui ont toujours à redécouvrir la place et l'apport unique de cette période de la vie. Née en 1792 à Cancale, en Bretagne, Jeanne Jugan a eu le souci de la dignité de ses frères et de ses sœurs en humanité, que l'âge a rendus vulnérables, reconnaissant en eux la personne même du Christ. "Regardez le pauvre avec compassion, disait-elle, et Jésus vous regardera avec bonté, à votre dernier jour". Ce regard de compassion sur les personnes âgées, puisé dans sa profonde communion avec Dieu, Jeanne Jugan l'a porté à travers son service joyeux et désintéressé, exercé avec douceur et humilité du cœur, se voulant elle-même pauvre parmi les pauvres. Jeanne a vécu le mystère d'amour en acceptant, en paix, l'obscurité et le dépouillement jusqu'à sa mort. Son charisme est toujours d'actualité, alors que tant de personnes âgées souffrent de multiples pauvretés et de solitude, étant parfois même abandonnées de leurs familles. L'esprit d'hospitalité et d'amour fraternel, fondé sur une confiance illimitée dans la Providence, dont Jeanne Jugan trouvait la source dans les Béatitudes, a illuminé toute son existence. Cet élan évangélique se poursuit aujourd'hui à travers le monde dans la Congrégation des Petites Sœurs des Pauvres, qu'elle a fondée et qui témoigne à sa suite de la miséricorde de Dieu et de l'amour compatissant du Cœur de Jésus pour les plus petits. Que sainte Jeanne Jugan soit pour les personnes âgées une source vive d'espérance et pour les personnes qui se mettent généreusement à leur service un puissant stimulant afin de poursuivre et de développer son œuvre!
Chers frères et sœurs, rendons grâce au Seigneur pour le don de la sainteté qui resplendit aujourd'hui dans l'Eglise avec une beauté singulière. Alors que je salue affectueusement chacun d'entre vous - Cardinaux, Evêques, autorités civiles et militaires, prêtres, religieux et religieuses, fidèles laïcs de différentes nationalités qui prenez part à cette solennelle célébration eucharistique -, je voudrais vous adresser à tous l'appel à vous laisser attirer par les lumineux exemples de ces saints, à vous laisser guider par leurs enseignements pour que toute notre existence devienne un cantique de louange à l'amour de Dieu. Que leur intercession céleste et surtout la protection maternelle de Marie, Reine des Saints et Mère de l'humanité, nous obtienne cette grâce. Amen.
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20091011_canonizzazioni_fr.html
FOR THE CANONIZATION OF FIVE NEW SAINTS
ZYGMUNT SZCZĘSNY FELIŃSKI (1822 – 1895)
FRANCISCO COLL Y GUITART (1812 – 1875)
JOZEF DAMIAAN DE VEUSTER (1840 – 1889)
RAFAEL ARNÁIZ BARÓN (1911 – 1938)
MARIE DE LA CROIX (JEANNE) JUGAN (1792 – 1879)
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"What must I do to inherit eternal life?". The brief conversation we heard in the Gospel passage, between a man identified elsewhere as the rich young man and Jesus, begins with this question (cf. Mk 10: 17-30). We do not have many details about this anonymous figure; yet from a few characteristics we succeed in perceiving his sincere desire to attain eternal life by leading an honest and virtuous earthly existence. In fact he knows the commandments and has observed them faithfully from his youth. Yet, all this which is of course important is not enough. Jesus says he lacks one thing, but it is something essential. Then, seeing him well disposed, the divine Teacher looks at him lovingly and suggests to him a leap in quality; he calls the young man to heroism in holiness, he asks him to abandon everything to follow him: "go, sell what you have, and give to the poor... and come, follow me" (v. 21).
"Come, follow me". This is the Christian vocation which is born from the Lord's proposal of love and can only be fulfilled in our loving response. Jesus invites his disciples to give their lives completely, without calculation or personal interest, with unreserved trust in God. Saints accept this demanding invitation and set out with humble docility in the following of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Their perfection, in the logic of faith sometimes humanly incomprehensible consists in no longer putting themselves at the centre but in choosing to go against the tide, living in line with the Gospel. This is what the five Saints did who are held up today with great joy for the veneration of the universal Church: Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Francisco Coll y Guitart, Jozef Damien de Veuster, Rafael Arnáiz Barón and Mary of the Cross (Jeanne Jugan). In them we contemplate the Apostle Peter's words fulfilled: "Lo, we have left everything and followed you" (v. 28), and Jesus' comforting reassurance: "there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time... with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life" (vv. 29-30).
Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Archbishop of Warsaw, the Founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, was a great witness of faith and pastoral charity in very troubled times for the nation and for the Church in Poland. He zealously concerned himself with the spiritual development of the faithful, he helped the poor and orphans. At the Ecclesiastical Academy in St Petersburg he saw to the sound formation of priests and as Archbishop of Warsaw he instilled in everyone the desire for inner renewal. Before the January 1863 Uprising against Russian annexation he put the people on guard against useless bloodshed. However, when the rebellion broke out and there were repressions he courageously defended the oppressed. On the Tsar of Russia's orders he spent 20 years in exile at Jaroslaw on the Volga, without ever being able to return to his diocese. In every situation he retained his steadfast trust in Divine Providence and prayed: "O God, protect us not from the tribulations and worries of this world... only multiply love in our hearts and obtain that in deepest humility we may keep our infinite trust in your help and your mercy". Today his gift of himself to God and to humankind, full of trust and love, becomes a luminous example for the whole Church.
St Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that "the word of God is living and active" (Heb 4: 12). In it the Father who is in Heaven speaks lovingly to his children in all the epochs (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 21), making them know his infinite love and, in this way, encouraging them, consoling them and offering them his plan of salvation for humanity and for every person. Aware of this, St Francisco Coll dedicated himself eagerly to disseminating it, thus faithfully fulfilling his vocation in the Order of Preachers, in which he had made his profession. His passion was for preaching, mainly as an itinerant preacher, following the form of the "popular missions". Thus he aimed to proclaim and to revive the word of God in the villages and towns of Catalonia, thereby guiding people to profound encounter with God. This encounter leads to conversion of heart, to receiving divine grace joyfully and to keeping up a constant conversation with Our Lord through prayer. For this reason his evangelizing activity included great dedication to the sacrament of Reconciliation, a special emphasis on the Eucharist and constant insistence on prayer. Francisco Coll moved the hearts of others because he conveyed to them what he himself lived passionately within, what set his own heart on fire: love for Christ and surrender to him. To ensure that the seed of the word of God fell on good ground, Francisco founded the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Anunciata to give an integral education to children and young women so that they might continue to discover the unfathomable treasure that is Christ, the faithful friend who never abandons us and never wearies of being beside us, enlivening our hope with his word of life.
Jozef De Veuster received the name of Damien in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. When he was 23 years old, in 1863, he left Flanders, the land of his birth, to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world in the Hawaiian Islands. His missionary activity, which gave him such joy, reached its peak in charity. Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who lived there, abandoned by all. Thus he was exposed to the disease from which they suffered. He felt at home with them. The servant of the Word consequently became a suffering servant, a leper with the lepers, for the last four years of his life. In order to follow Christ, Fr Damien not only left his homeland but also risked his health: therefore as the word of Jesus proclaimed to us in today's Gospel says he received eternal life (cf. Mk 10: 30). On this 20th anniversary of the Canonization of another Belgian Saint, Bro. Mutien-Marie, the Church in Belgium has once again come together to give thanks to God for the recognition of one of its sons as an authentic servant of God. Let us remember before this noble figure that it is charity which makes unity, brings it forth and makes it desirable. Following in St Paul's footsteps, St Damien prompts us to choose the good warfare (cf. 1 Tim 1: 18), not the kind that brings division but the kind that gathers people together. He invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brethren and still today call for the charity of our presence as servants, beyond that of our generosity.
Turning to today's Gospel, the figure of the young man who tells Jesus of his desire to be something more than one who fulfils to the letter the duties imposed by the law contrasts with Bro. Rafael, canonized today, who died at age 26 as an oblate at the Trappist Monastery of San Isidro de Dueñas. Bro. Rafael also came from a rich family and, as he himself said, was of a "somewhat dreamy disposition", but his dreams did not vanish before the attraction of material goods and the other aims that the worldly life sometimes proposes with great insistence. He said "yes" to the call to follow Jesus, instantly and with determination, without limits or conditions. So it was that he set out on a journey which, from the moment when he realized at the Monastery that "he did not know how to pray", brought him in just a few years to the peak of spiritual life, which he recounts in a very frank and natural style in many of his letters. Bro. Rafael, who is also near to us, continues with his example and his actions to offer us an attractive path, especially for young people who are not content with little but aspire to the full truth, the ineffable happiness which is attained through God's love. "A life of love.... This is the only reason for living", the new Saint said. And he insisted: "All things come from God's love". May the Lord listen kindly to one of the last prayers of St Rafael Arnáiz, when he offered God his whole life, imploring him: "Take me to yourself and give yourself to the world". May he give himself to revive the inner life of today's Christians. May he give himself so that his Brother Trappists and monastic centres continue to be beacons that reveal the intimate yearning for God which he himself instilled in every human heart.
By her admirable work at the service of the most deprived elderly, St Mary of the Cross is also like a beacon to guide our societies which must always rediscover the place and the unique contribution of this period of life. Born in 1792 at Cancale in Brittany, Jeanne Jugan was concerned with the dignity of her brothers and sisters in humanity whom age had made more vulnerable, recognizing in them the Person of Christ himself. "Look upon the poor with compassion", she would say, "and Jesus will look kindly upon you on your last day". Jeanne Jugan focused upon the elderly a compassionate gaze drawn from her profound communion with God in her joyful, disinterested service, which she carried out with gentleness and humility of heart, desiring herself to be poor among the poor. Jeanne lived the mystery of love, peacefully accepting obscurity and self-emptying until her death. Her charism is ever timely while so many elderly people are suffering from numerous forms of poverty and solitude and are sometimes also abandoned by their families. In the Beatitudes Jeanne Jugan found the source of the spirit of hospitality and fraternal love, founded on unlimited trust in Providence, which illuminated her whole life. This evangelical dynamism is continued today across the world in the Congregation of Little Sisters of the Poor, which she founded and which testifies, after her example, to the mercy of God and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus for the lowliest. May St Jeanne Jugan be for elderly people a living source of hope and for those who generously commit themselves to serving them, a powerful incentive to pursue and develop her work!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank the Lord for the gift of holiness which shines out in the Church today with unique beauty. While I greet with affection each one of you Cardinals, Bishops, civil and military authorities, priests, men and women religious and members of the lay faithful of various nationalities who are taking part in this solemn Eucharistic celebration I would like to address to all the invitation to let yourselves be attracted by the luminous examples of these Saints, to let yourselves be guided by their teaching so that our entire life may become a song of praise to God's love. May their heavenly intercession obtain for us this grace and, especially, the motherly protection of Mary, Queen and Mother of humanity. Amen.
© Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20091011_canonizzazioni_en.html
St. Damien of Molokai
St. Damien of Molokai, or Father Damien as he is commonly known, was born Joseph de Veuster in Tremeloo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840. His father, a small farmer, sent him to a college at Braine-le-Comte, to prepare for a commercial profession; but as a result of a mission given by the Redemptorists in 1858, Joseph decided to become a religious. He entered the novitiate of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Louvain, and took in religion the name of Damien. He was admitted to the religious profession, 7 Oct. 1860.
Three years later, though still in minor orders, he was sent to the mission of the Hawaiian Islands, where he arrived, 19 March, 1864. Ordained priest at Honolulu 24 May of the same year, he was later given charge of various districts on the island of Hawaii, and, animated with a burning zeal, his robust constitution allowed him to give full play to the impulses of his heart. He was not only the missionary of the natives, but also constructed several chapels with his own hands, both in Hawaii and in Molokai.
On the latter island there had grown up a leper settlement where the Government kept segregated all persons afflicted with the loathsome disease. The board of health supplied the unfortunates with food and clothing, but was unable in the beginning to provide them with either resident physicians or nurses.
On 10 May, 1873, Father Damien, at his own request and with the sanction of his bishop, arrived at the settlement as its resident priest. There were then 600 lepers. “As long as the lepers can care for themselves”, wrote the superintendent of the board of health to Bishop Maigret, “they are comparatively comfortable, but as soon as the dreadful disease renders them helpless, it would seem that even demons themselves would pity their condition and hasten their death.” For a long time, however, Father Damien was the only one to bring them the succour they so greatly needed. He not only administered the consolations of religion, but also rendered them such little medical service and bodily comforts as were within his power.
He dressed their ulcers, helped them erect their cottages, and went so far as to dig their graves and make their coffins. After twelve years of this heroic service he discovered in himself the first symptoms of the disease. This was in 1885. He nevertheless continued his charitable ministrations, being assisted at this period by two other priests and two lay brothers. Father Damien died peacefully on April 15, 1889, on Molokai after sixteen years of undaunted dedication. On October 11, 2009, Father Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony at the Vatican, thus becoming Saint Damien.
SOURCE : http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/saint-damien-of-molokai/
Joseph de Veuster (RM)
(also known as Father Damien)
Born January 3, 1840 at Tremeloo, Belgium; died April 15, 1889; declared venerable by Pope Pius VI in 1977; canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 3, 1995.
Joseph de Veuster studied at the College of Braine-le-Comte, and in 1860 joined the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (the Picpus Fathers), taking the name Damien. While still a novice in a Parisien monastery, volunteered for missionary work in the southern seas, and was refused because he was not yet ordained, but when one who should have gone was prevented through illness, Damien was allowed to go in his stead. His superiors need not have feared, for of the ten monks who sailed for Hawaii in 1864, Damien's name and work to outlive them all.
Damien was ordained in Honolulu two months after his arrival and was given a remote parish covering an area as large as his native Belgium, in a barren and volcanic land, where with no white colleague and no church building he began his work. He worked for nine years to evangelize the peoples of Puno and Kohala.
First he labored with his own hands under a blazing sun to build a chapel, then visited his parish from end to end, journeying past the craters and lakes of fire and through the sulphurous fumes or the mud which followed torrential rains. Often he took his life in his hands, as when once at midnight he burst into a secret burial cave where 30 natives were engaged in a ghoulish ritual. Without hesitation he interrupted the ceremony, spilling their vessels of animal blood and with angry scorn tearing to shreds their pagan symbols.
He is remembered most for his work among the lepers of Molokai, where the authorities had established a self-supporting leper settlement to which all who had contracted the high-contagious disease were compulsorily deported and where under appalling conditions they were left to their fate. When the call came in 1873 for a priest for Molokai, with the proviso that under new government regulations he must remain there for life, though whoever volunteered to go was almost certain to contract and die of the disease, Damien pleaded for the post.
Within an hour he was on his way. At Honolulu he transferred to a ship carrying 50 lepers, and at Molokai he was greeted by his new parishioners, who lined the beach in the last stages of disease and despair. He found only one hopeful sign among the squalor of his new surroundings--a rude wooden chapel, where his first act was to kneel in prayer. He spent that night in cleaning it, and was disturbed by the drunken laughter of the dissolute--for it was a lawless community, by the cries of the dying, and by the howling of the wild dogs that devoured the dead.
There follows the epic of his transformation of this living hell. In 1885, at the age of 49 he himself caught the disease, but crippled and deformed, he carried on, refusing to be transhipped for treatment. Before he died, four other priests and a band of nurses had joined him, and under his influence the island of death became a civilized welfare community.
Though he was often slandered during his lifetime, his holiness and dedication were quickly recognized after his death. (Robert Louis Stevenson wrote an impassioned defense of his character in 1905, which was used to support the canonization.) His body was brought home, and this man who was born a peasant and had spent his life, and sacrificed it, among the banished lepers of Molokai, was buried like a prince in Antwerp Cathedral (Delaney, Gill).
Blessed Damien de Veuster, ss.cc.
Martyr of Charity and Apostle to the Lepers
Servant of Humanity
Father Damien was born in Belgium on January 3, 1840. He was the last of seven children. Damien was supposed to inherit the family business and, in preparation, went to study business administration and to learn French. While at school, he attended a Lenten Parish Mission and was inspired with a vocation. It seems that from a young age, Damien was always "all or nothing." Once he had decided on a vocation he wanted to join the Trappists since this was the strictest form of religious life. However, when visiting his brother at the Sacred Hearts Seminary in Louvain, he was persuaded to join the Sacred Hearts. Since he hadn't studied Latin, he was first accepted as a lay-brother. Throughout this earliest period of seminary formation, Damien demonstrated an attraction to austerity that would persist throughout his life. Despite a robust constitution, he ate little and, to discipline himself, he slept on the floor. His brother tutored him in Latin and Damien was then accepted as a priesthood candidate.
While Damien was in seminary, his brother was ordained a priest. Then his brother was assigned to the Sacred Hearts mission in Hawaii. As he prepared to leave, a typhus epidemic hit Louvain. His brother caught the disease while ministering to the sick. Since typhus required a long recuperation, he wasn't able to sail to Hawaii. This left one berth available for a missionary on the ship. Damien, not yet a deacon, wrote to the Superior General asking for permission to take his brother's place. The General gave his permission and Damien left for Hawaii.
Upon arrival in Honolulu, Damien was sent to the windward side of Oahu to complete his studies. In short order, he was ordained a deacon and then, on May 21, 1864 he was ordained a priest in Queen of Peace Cathedral, Honolulu. He was only 24 years old. The Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Maigret, sent him to assist the missionaries on the Big Island. Damien served there for 9 years.
Shortly before Damien's arrival in Hawaii, leprosy began to spread among the native Hawaiians. Most probably, leprosy reached the islands from China by way of the whaling and other commercial vessels transiting the Pacific Ocean. Hawaiians, having been isolated for hundreds of years, had no natural immunological defense against the disease. Once established, it spread rapidly and infected all the islands. This created a crisis for the Hawaiian Government and the King was persuaded to establish an isolation colony to stop the spread of leprosy. The site chosen for this colony is a natural prison on Molokai. A 27 square mile, low lying section of the island was walled-off by 2000 foot-high cliffs. Throughout the islands, government agents identified people showing signs of the disease and shipped them to a detention center in Honolulu. At the center, Western doctors confirmed the diagnoses. Lepers were then transshipped to Molokai.
The leper colony in Kalaupapa eventually included many Catholics who were in need of a priest. Bishop Maigret was loathe to ask any one priest to go and serve them because of the danger of infection and of being quarantined. At a meeting of Sacred Hearts missionaries, he explained the plight of the Catholics on Molokai. Every Sacred Hearts missionary volunteered to go. After more conversation, it was agreed that four priests would rotate through the colony in three month increments. Damien was the first to go.
During Damien's 16 years at Kalaupapa, many different factors contributed to his becoming a Martyr of Charity and Apostle to the Lepers. For most of his time on Molokai, Damien, was the only resident clergyman. Over 16 years, the government became more and more restrictive in terms of who could live in the colony. At first, spouses and servants were able to accompany those who had the disease. Government officials were able to transit freely between the colony and the outside. Over time, the decision was made that no resident could ever leave the leprosarium. This applied to Damien who had been able to travel to Honolulu to conduct business related to the settlement.
The Hawaiian kingdom was not rich and the leper settlement quickly strained its financial resources. When the colony was established, only one dollar ($1) per leper per year had been allotted to provide housing, food, clothing and medical care. When Damien arrived, many sick people lacked even the basic necessities. He became the advocate for the settlement to the government, built houses for every resident, provided conventional medical care and experimented with new medications, planted orchards and imported cattle, built an aqueduct to bring fresh water into the settlement, expanded the pre-existing St. Philomena's church, and established two orphanages (one each for boys and girls). The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts in Honolulu promoted charitable support for the settlement and became the depot for donated goods and services. As the settlement gained notoriety worldwide, donations poured in from all over the world. This was a great relief to the government which tried to provide for the lepers as best they could.
Before Damien left Belgium for the missions, he visited a shrine to the Blessed Mother. He asked her for 12 years of missionary service. It is interesting to note that it was in his 12th year in the leper colony that he was diagnosed with the most virulent form of leprosy. He lived and worked for 4 more years before succumbing to the disease on April 15, 1889. He was 49 years old. On Pentecost Sunday, 1995,Pope John Paul II declared Father Damien among the "Blessed" and gave him the title "Servant of Humanity." Father Damien's Feast Day is May 10, the day he arrived to serve the Leprosarium in 1873.
SOURCE : http://www.sscc.org/pages/x_Damien/damien_bio.htm
Saint Damien - Servant of God,
Servant of Humanity
Ordained in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on May 21, 1864
Saint Damien de Veuster was born on January 3, 1840 in Tremelo, Belgium. He was a simple man whose parents were farmers so he had a body that was square, sturdy, and well-conditioned. Saint Damien was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on May 21, 1864 in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace two months after his arrival in Hawai‘i. He was assigned to the Big Island where powerful bonds of Christian love developed between him and his people.
In the meantime, the Hawaiian population was being plagued by Hansen's Disease or leprosy as it was known at that time. Those infected were sent to Kalaupapa Settlement on Molokai to remain forever. Saint Damien requested to serve in Kalawao where the most desperate patients were housed. He arrived in Kalaupapa on May 10, 1873 and eight days later he wrote to his provincial asking for permission to stay permanently. His superior answered him by saying that he had not made up his mind concerning this matter but "...You may stay as long as your devotion dictates..." They were the most welcome words that he could have received and he read the letter repeatedly allowing the words to echo in his mind and in his heart. He longed to serve among these most pitiful souls, the residents of Kalawao. It turned out to be a monumental challenge with the possibility that he might someday contract leprosy, for in order to communicate his love and concern it would involve direct contact with them.
Saint Damien's work among the patients knew no bounds and his primary concern was to restore to them a sense of personal dignity and value. He ministered to the sick by bringing the sacraments to them and by anointing those who were bedridden. He washed their bodies, bandaged their wounds, tidied their rooms and made them as comfortable as possible. He encouraged those who were well to work alongside him by building cottages, coffins, a rectory, an orphanage for the children and repairing the road. He also taught them to farm, play musical instruments, and sing. Saint Damien was everywhere in the settlement and even on "topside" which was part of his parish. He touched their hearts with his sincere desire to serve them and slowly their sense of dignity which was all but destroyed by their illness was restored.
His own life was surrounded by horror - the sights of the ravaged bodies and faces of those in the advanced stages of leprosy and the obnoxious smells were overpowering but he accepted them. Even before he was diagnosed as having leprosy he used the term "we lepers" in his sermons for he wished to identify with them as a means of bringing them to Christ. He refused to let their lives be swept into despair.
Saint Damien was a man with a quick smile. He was a headstrong individual but no one could deny that he was a man with a warm and tender heart. He was quick to forgive and never bore a grudge. His face was full of kindness and he was totally unselfish in his work. These qualities, as well as his practical nature and fluent command of the Hawaiian language enabled him to be held in high esteem by the residents.
As the years progressed, word of Saint Damien's deeds attracted worldwide attention. Food, medicine, clothing, and funds were sent from many countries to assist his mission but the need was always there for more. There were news articles written in many countries, notably Europe and America, about his compassionate and charitable work.
Saint Damien died on April 15, 1889 at Kalawao, Molokai where he devoted much of his life in service of God. Shortly after his death, a monument was erected in Kalaupapa to honor his memory with this inscription. "Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." His feast day is celebrated on May 10.
SOURCE : http://cathedralofourladyofpeace.com/damien.htm
DAMIEN THE LEPER
Every age has its stories of heroic men and women whose faith challenges them to reach out in heroic love and service to alleviate the sufferings of their brothers and sisters.
This is the story of one such hero. He was born Joseph De Veuster, a Belgian farm boy. He is known now to all the world as Damien the Leper. His bronze figure graces the statuary hall in Washington, D.C.
Damien's compassion for the lepers led him to spend sixteen years in the "living graveyard that was Molokai," where he died at the age of forty-nine in service to people suffering from the terrible disease of leprosy.
Damien never lost sight of his life's purpose, despite the many difficulties and sufferings he bore. It was only his faith that enabled him to endure the trials that his life's work caused him.
We hope that you enjoy this story and find it a source of strength and encouragement.
The Fateful Words...
He read the letter, over and over. "You may stay as long as your devotion dictates...." The words exploded against his mind and shook his heart. Again, and once again, he read them. They were the most welcome words he had ever received.
He stood and listened to the sounds about him. Soft, cool breezes gently swept across his island. The palm trees along the shore bowed before the refreshing winds and clapped their great fronds in joy. Bright morning sunlight played over the trees, turning the leaves, now silver, blue. The Pacific waves rolled tranquilly against the rocky shores. The green and white waters rose and fell; the ocean's motion never stopped, day or night. The restless power locked in the Pacific's waves mirrored the surging energies locked within his own heart.
He was a priest—a simple man. His parents were Belgian farmers. Nature had prepared his square, sturdy, and well-developed body to till the soil. God had summoned him to labor in a different field—to cultivate a more violent harvest. The words he now read hammered home this summons.
The letter, from his superiors, gave the priest, Father Damien De Veuster, permission to stay where he was and where he, in the springtime of 1873, longed with all his heart to be. On Molokai, one of the Hawaiian Islands. Father De Veuster, thirty-three, had already served nine years in the Hawaiian missions. He was a member of the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts, who had pioneered Catholicism in the islands. These religious had faced and overcome enormous problems since their arrival in 1827. Now they faced a new and frightful challenge, a leprosy epidemic. To halt the spread of the dread disease, the Hawaiian government had isolated several hundred lepers at Kalawao, on the island of
Molokai. Catholic lepers there begged for a priest. Many missioners, despite danger of contagion, had offered to go. The Bishop, Louis Maigret, and Father Modeste, the religious superior of the Sacred Hearts Fathers, had selected Damien to begin the mission. Both were reluctant to put such a crushing burden pemanently on this young priest's square and sturdy shoulders. The Bishop and Father Modeste knew the bitter work that had to be done; they hesitated to demand that this one man do so much of it.
Thirteen years before, while a student for the priesthood in France, Damien had symbolically faced and accepted death. At the public profession of his final vows, as was the religious custom of the times, his superiors covered him with a funeral pall. He had truly believed then that only by accepting death would he discover life. Now, thirteen years later, he was putting his dedication to the test. He sought to serve the most pitiful of all men, the lepers of Molokai. By so doing, in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, "he shut to, with his own hands, the doors of his own sepulchre."
Men Discover Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands, one of the most beautiful places in all of God's creation, were one of the last places on earth that men discovered. God was saving, it seems, his choicest gift for the last. Polynesian explorers, the first men to find the islands, settled there about eight centuries after Christ's birth. A thousand years later, during the American Revolution, British sailors, under Captain Cook, were the first Europeans to reach this paradise.
Europeans found about three hundred thousand people on the islands. The natives, cheerful, unspoled, easy-going unless provoked, were generous, delighted in sports and athletic contests. A highly organized native religion dominated every aspect of Hawaiian life.
Living was easy in the islands. The people readily obtained fish, fruit, vegetables, and meat. Hawaiians lived in little homes constructed of palm branches. Daily life was pleasant, cheerful, uncomplicated.
As contact with the outside world increased, the Hawaiians, with no immunity to European and Asiatic diseases, suffered immensely. Smallpox, influenza, cholera, tuberculosis, venereal disease, struck savagely and pitilessly. Within a hundred years of the white man's arrival, the native population dropped from three hundred thousand to fifty thousand people. In the long litany of ills decimating the Hawaiian people, none was more vicious than leprosy. This hideous disease cut an evil swath through the defenseless natives of our planet's Last Eden.
One of man's oldest curses, leprosy for centuries defied cure or remedy. To prevent its spread, Moses had separated and isolated Jews afflicted by it from the community. Roman legions and, later, Crusaders brought the disease to Europe. Authorities, having no better remedy than Moses, ordered lepers segregated from the cities and towns. Lepers were ordered to wear bells around their necks to warn people of their approach. By the year 1000, monks had constructed more than two thousand leper hospitals in Europe. They were called Lazar houses after the Gospel's poor leper, Lazarus. Friars often lived in hidden leper settlements, serving the outcasts' physical and spiritual needs. Although the disease ran its course through western Europe, by the turn of the nineteenth century the memory of it remained sunk in the white man's brain like the terror of a nightmare. Even today the word "leprosy" evokes in the minds and hearts of people who have never seen a leper, the strangest sensations of fear and repulsion.
The first authenticated case of leprosy appeared in Hawaii in 1840. Within thirty years the disease reached epidemic proportions among the defenseless Hawaiians. Authorities, helpless and ill-equipped, adopted the only policy they knew, the policy of segregation. In 1868, the Hawaiian government established a leper settlement on the island of Molokai, and officials were dispatched to round up the lepers. Ideally equipped by nature for its grim purposes, Molokai became an island of sorrow in the wild beauty of the Hawaiian chain. Its very name struck terror in the Hawaiian heart.
Hawaiians gave little thought to tommorow; and had no worries about robbers, since village families held all things in common. They ate, slept and worked on the family straw mat.
Her name was Karokina. Mother of three children, she lived in a tiny fishing village on the island of Hawaii. Her life was simple, serene; her home, a lean-to built of palm branches. Affection, laughter and song characterized Karokina's home life. She loved to watch the sun cast down silver jewels of light upon the green ocean. The gods were close to Karo. Every so often, Pele, goddess of fire, whose footsteps the medicine men declared had formed their islands, hurled smoke and fire from a nearby volcano. Then Karo knew fear. The blue skies turned to black, the ocean hissed as hot lava and firestones poured into its bosom. The sun and moon hid their faces behind the great clouds of steam that rose from the heaving seas.
A lake of fire springs from the heart of a Hawaiian mountain. Centuries after volcanic explosions had formed the islands, their people were blessed by the fire of love in one man's heart.
Then the winds cleared the air, and Karo's fear passed. Karo loved her islands most in the spring, when the poinciana trees burst into masses of scarlet, orange and gold bossoms, and pink flowers popped out from the green canopies of the monkey pod trees. It was during a springtime of great joy and beauty that white men from Honolulu came to Karo's village. They were searching for natives who had that strange disease white men called leprosy.
Karo had the illness. She knew a few years ago, when her hand brushed against a smoldering log. Karo felt no pain. The terrible illness had begun its frightful work. Her face's gentle features gradually withered. Her eyes narrowed, and her ears enlarged. The disease ate her energy, and she knew fever and weakness. Karo's husband and children sorrowed at her plight and did all they could to comfort her. They, of course, kept her at home. Her husband heard that the government was rounding up lepers and sending them to Molokai. "How cruel," he complained to his neighbors, "to separate mother or father or children from home when they need the family most. If the white man wishes to treat his sick differently than Hawaiians do, why doesn't he go away and leave us alone? He forced his cruel illness on us and now he is forcing his brutal cures."
There were other lepers in Karo's village. Some heard the white man coming and hid in the great volcano caves. Others found hiding places and holes in the jungle floor. But for Karo it was too late. The hunters took her at gunpoint to a government schooner. Her husband tried to stop them, but he was helpless. Karo's children wailed and wept piteous tears of despair. White men spoke of their god as a god of mercy. Yet they showed no mercy.
Karo's captors took her first to Honolulu, where they herded her together with lepers from other islands. Some where more disfigured and ill than she was. Many could not walk; others could barely crawl. But the police forced them all on board the ship that was to take them to Molokai in this February of 1873. The ship's crew looked on the unfortunates with horror.
After several hours on the open sea, the schooner, full of weeping, crying and terrorized sick, arrived off the Molokai colony's shore. There was no harbor, no dock. The captain and crew, afraid to bring the vessel too close to the rocky beach, drove and hurled the lepers into the surf. Some drowned. Others miraculously survived. On torn and bleeding feet they stumbled up on the harsh volcanic rock, numb and cold.
There was no one to greet them. No one to warm them. Many survived the pounding surf only to die from exhaustion on the inhospitable beach. Karo dragged herself to shore. Eventually she found a little cave to shelter her shivering body. Wild fruit helped nourish her. There was little food. She soon joined another group of lepers. They told her to forget home. All of them were condemned. They might as well reach for whatever wild joys they could possess before merciful death claimed them.
"In this place," a man advised Karo, "there is no law." Sexual immorality, brawling, drunkenness, robberies, and orgiastic dancing, fueled by liquor made from tree roots, characterized the lives of lepers. Nobody cared. When lepers died, their poor bodies were thrown into graves so shallow that pigs and dogs grew fat feasting on their flesh.
Karo despaired and died.
The Outside World
Between 1866 and 1873, seven hundred and ninety-seven lepers arrived at Molokai. Almost half died. Public indignation mounted. The Board of Health, which natives wryly dubbed the "Board of Death," sought to improve conditions. The government granted an increase in leper food and clothing rations, and appointed a superintendent to restore law and order to the colony. The press kept up a drum-fire of complaints about the ill-treatment and disorder of Molokai. In April, 1873, Walter Gibson, a colorful and clever politician, wrote in Nuhou, a Hawaiian newspaper; "If a noble Christian priest, preacher or Sister should be inspired to go and sacrifice a life to console these poor wretches, that would be a royal soul to shine forever on a throne reared by human love."
Despite the fulsome prose, Gibson was trumpeting a call, a challenge. There were indeed several men in the islands, only too willing to respond. They were good shepherds, searching for a flock for which they could lay down their lives. They were priests and Brothers of the Sacred Hearts. One of them was Father Damien De Veuster. Call it presentiment, prophecy, or anything you wish, but Damien had known for some time that he would eventually go to Molokai. In April, 1873, he wrote his Father General in Europe about his mission in Kohala, Hawaii, where he was stationed. "Many of our Christians here at Kohala also had to go to Molokai. I can only attribute to God an undeniable feeling that soon I shall join them.... Eight years of service among Christians you love and love you have tied us by powerful bonds." And join them he did. In early May, 1873, Father Damien's superiors approved his request to serve at the leper settlement.
The New Pastor
Bishop Maigret accompanied Damien to Molokai. The Bishop proudly presented the new pastor to the Catholic lepers. The joy of their welcome and Damien's excitement upon finally arriving at Molokai, dimmed the fact that he carried with him little more than his Breviary. Sacred Hearts religious previously had built a tiny chapel on Molokai, and had dedicated it to St. Philomena. For his first rectory, Damien used the shelter of a pandanus tree, beside the little church. The pandanus offered hospitality to all passing creatures, centipedes, scorpions, ants, roaches and, finally, fleas. Cats, dogs and sheep found shelter under the tree's kind branches. Damien settled in comfortably. A large rock on the side of the tree served as his dinner table. During these first weeks the new missionary took normal precautions to avoid contagion.
With the lepers' help, Damien added the rear wing to Molokai's chapel. He also built the rectory (left). The priest was a skillful carpenter. No construction project daunted him.
But if Damien protected his body, there was nothing he could do to protect his eyes or ears or sense of smell from the shock of contact with the leper. Here at Kalawao, the priest had opened a door to hell. Victims of the disease were all about him, their bodies in ruins, their faces ravaged and smashed by the coracious bacillus of leprosy. The constant coughing of the sick was the colony's most familiar sound. Gathering up his enormous resources of courage, Damien began to approach the lepers one by one. Their breath was fetid; their bodies, already in a state of corruption, exuded a most foul odor. One of his first visits was to a young girl. He had found that worms had eaten her whole side.
"Many a time," he wrote as he recalled these first days, "in fulfilling my priestly duties at the lepers' homes, I have been obliged, not only to close my nostrils, but to remain outside to breathe fresh air. To counteract the bad smell, I got myself accustomed to the use of tobacco. The smell of the pipe preserved me somewhat from carrying in my clothes the obnoxious odor of our lepers."
Molokai was a colony of shame, peopled by lost souls and smashed bodies. Medical care was minimal. Even if decent care were provided, Hawaiians distrusted the white man's medicine, preferring their own witch doctors, or kahuna. White doctors sporadically appeared at government expense. These physicians lived in terror of contagion. One doctor examined lepers' wounds by lifting their bandages with his cane. Another left medicine on a table where lepers could collect it without touching him.
Life was grotesque on Molokai. Ambrose Hutchinson, a veteran of half a century in the colony, describes an incident in the settlement's early days. "A man, his face partly covered below the eyes, with a white rag or handkerchief tied behind his head, came out from the house that stood near the road. He was pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with a bundle, which, at first, I mistook for soiled rags. He wheeled it across the yard to a small windowless shack.... The man then half turned over the wheelbarrow and shook it. The bundle (instead of rags it was a human being) rolled out on the floor with an agonizing groan. The fellow turned the wheelbarrow around and wheeled it away, leaving the sick man lying there helpless. After a while the dying man raised and pushed himself in the doorway; with his body and his legs stretched out, he lay there face down."
Molokai was a chamber of horrors. But the Hawaiian government (which at this time was independent of the United States and headed by native royalty) had not planned it that way.
Plans Gone Awry
The Board of Health had put much thought into the leper settlement's establishment. It chose Molokai because its geography was ideal for enforcing the isolation and segregation policy. Like other Hawaiian islands, Molokai was formed by a volcanic eruption from the ocean floor. As the fires under the crust of the earth exploded upward, Molokai rose out of the sea, a spectacular palisade reaching three to four thousand feet above the ocean. A later eruption within the high island poured hot lava into the sea. The volcanic flow piled up until it formed a shelf at the base of Molokai's high cliffs. This peninsula sticks out into the ocean like a dirty brown furrowed tongue. There is no way to leave the peninsula except to plunge into the ocean or to climb up the huge vertical precipice surrounding the peninsula on three sides. The Board of Health knew that the peninsula was a natural prison, for no one suffering the ravages of leprosy could possibly scale the cliffs surrounding the colony. Most of Molokai's non-leper population lived on the high plateau which embraces more than ninety percent of the island's land area. The leper colony was established at Kalawao on a part of the peninsula described above.
Molokai's first lepers lived on, died on, and were buried in their mats. Authorities expected these poor people, weakened and crippled by their disease, to till the rich soil, raise cattle, and feed themselves. At first the government provided a few miserable grass huts for shelter. Abandoned lepers perished from hunger and cold.
Molokai's palisades are covered with heavy green vegetation. Great cataracts of water from the frequent rainstorms that lash Molokai, plunge down her cliffsides. At certain seasons of the year, winds carrying chill and dampness, cascade down from the mountains onto the leper colony. Huddled in their flimsy huts, the lepers suffer grievously from the cold. "A heavy windstorm," Damien reported after arrival, "blew down most of the rotten abodes, and many a weakened leper lay in the wind and rain with his blanket and wet clothing."
Father Damien was deeply moved by leper children. He struggled to preserve them from the physical and moral corruption of Molokai.
Damien's Colony Of Death
At the outset of his mission Damien aimed to restore in each leper a sense of personal worth and dignity. To show his poor battered flock the value of their lives, he had to demonstrate to them the value of their deaths. And so he turned his attention first to the cemetery area beside his little chapel. He fenced it around to protect the graves from the pigs, dogs, and other scavengers. He constructed coffins and dug graves. He organized the lepers into the Christian Burial Association to provide decent burial for each deceased. The organization arranged for the requiem Mass, the proper funeral ceremonies, and sponsored a musical group that played during the funeral procession.
Damien continued to minister to the sick, bringing the Sacraments of confession and Holy Communion and annointing bedridden lepers. He washed their bodies, bandaged their wounds and tidied their rooms and beds. He did all he could to make them as comfortable as possible.
He encouraged lepers to help him in all his activities. With their assistance he built everything from coffins to cottages. He constructed the rectory, built a home for the lepers' children. When the colony expanded along the peninsula to Kalaupapa, he hustled the lepers into construction of a good road between Kalawao and Kalaupapa. Under his direction, lepers blasted rocks at the Kalaupapa shoreline and opened a decent docking facility. Damien taught his people to farm, to raise animals, to play musical instruments, to sing. He watched with pride as the leper bands he organized marched up and down playing the music Hawaiians love so well. No self-pity in this colony. Damien's cheerful disposition and desire to serve touched the lepers' hearts without patronizing or bullying them. Little by little their accomplishments restored the sense of dignity their illness threatened to destroy.
Under Damien's vigorous lead, a sense of dignity and joy—and order replaced Molokai's despair and lawlessness. Neat, painted cottages, many of which the priest himself constructed, replaced the colony's miserable shacks.
He harried the government authorities. In their eyes he was "obstinate, headstrong, brusk and officious." Joseph Dutton later on speaks of him as "vehement and excitable in regard to matters that did not seem to him right, and he sometimes said and did things that he afterwards regretted..., but he had a true desire to do right, to bring about what he thought was best. No doubt he erred sometimes in judgement.... In certain periods he got along smoothly with everyone, and at times he was urgent for improvements. In some cases he made for confusion, as various government authorities would not agree with him."
In all things his lepers came first. It would be a mistake, however, to think of Damien as a single-minded fanatic. He was a human being who was quick to smile, of pleasant disposition, of open and frank countenance.
No one could deny that he was a headstrong person. But no one who knew him could deny that he was a man of warm and tender heart. He quickly forgave injuries and never bore a grudge.
Charles Warren Stoddard, an American writer, first visited Molokai in 1868, five years before Damien's arrival. He returned in 1884. In place of the miserable huts of the colony's beginning, Stoddard now found two villages of white houses, surrounded by flower gardens and cultivated fields. Molokai boasted a decent hospital, a graveyard, and two orphanages filled with children. But what delighted Stoddard most of all was that the men and women, instead of rotting in the slime, awaiting death, were out horseback-riding.
In 1888, the Englishman Edward Clifford visited Damien. "I had gone to Molokai expecting to find it scarcely less dreadful than hell itself," Clifford wrote, "and the cheerful people, the lovely landscapes, and comparatively painless life were all suprises. These poor people seemed singularly happy."
Clifford asked lepers if they missed not being back home. They replied, "Oh, no! We're well off here. The government watches over us, the superintendent is good, and we like our pastor. He builds our houses himself, he gives us tea, biscuits, sugar and clothes. He takes good care of us and doesn't let us want for anything."
The Holy Man
Damien was completely aware of the Hawaiians' childlike nature. Simple, generous, hospitable people, the Hawaiians were most attractive. They remained, however, children of Adam and could be licentious, lazy, and, at times, mean-spirited. Damien was not blind to their defects. Ambrose Hutchinson describes the immorality that continued to plague the colony despite Damien's best efforts.
Drinkers and dancers met in a remote area of the leper settlement called "the crazy pen." From time to time Damien raided this scabrous spot, and with his walking stick he broke up dancing and knocked over the liquor bottles. Hutchinson writes: "The hilarious feasters made a quick getaway from the place through the back door to escape Damien's big stick. He would not hesitate to lay it on good and hard on the poor hapless one who happened to come within reach of his cane."
His disciplinary measures did not hurt church attendance. The lepers came to St. Philomena's in such numbers that he had to enlarge the chapel. But even expanded facilities could not contain the worshipers. On Sundays, overflow crowds peered through the church windows to participate in the divine services.
Visitors never forgot the sights and sounds of a Sunday Mass at St. Philomena's Chapel. Damien, clear-eyed and devout, stood at the altar. Strong, muscular, a picture of vitality and health, the priest's face was kind and his concern for the people evident. His lepers gathered around him on the altar. Some were blind. They constantly coughed and expectorated. The odor was overpowering. Yet Damien never once wavered or showed his disgust. Damien placed, of all things, poor boxes in the church. Because the blind often missed the slot, the pastor placed a little bell inside the poor box. When the sightless leper's coin had dropped safely into the box, the bell rang.
Hawaiians love to sing, and St. Philomena's choir had no shortage of candidates. Because leprosy often attacked vocal cords, leper voices produced peculiar sounds. Nevertheless, the choir sang joyfully.
Damien's life was suffused with horror, yet he refused to be broken by it and refused to permit his little flock to be swept into despair. He ran foot races for the sports-loving lepers, even though some of them had no feet. He formed a band, even though some had few fingers to play the instruments. One witness reported two organists who played at the same time, managing ten fingers between them.
Damien—A World Figure
News of Damien's deeds spread from Hawaii to Europe to America. The priest of Molokai became front-page news. Funds poured in from all over the world. An Anglican priest, Reverend Hugh Chapman, organized, through the help of the London Times, a highly successful fund drive. Damien's notoriety and fund-raising drew the ire of the Hawaiian government and his own religious superiors. Both accused him of playing the press for his own selfish reasons. The government was unhappy, because it felt Damien's begging gave the Hawaiian effort to combat leprosy a bad image. Walter Gibson, Prime Minister of the Hawaiian king, felt that his government was most generous toward the lepers. It was spending fifty thousand dollars a year, which represented five percent of its total taxes, on leper care. No other government in the world could point to such a proud health-care record.
The superiors of the Sacred Hearts mission were distressed because they felt Damien was giving the Congregation's Fathers and Brothers a bad image. The press made it seem as if he were the only Sacred Hearts missionary willing to serve the colony. His superiors knew this was not true. And they took it as an affront to the whole Congregation. His superiors further accused Damien of being a "loner" because of his unhappy relationship with the three assistants they had sent him at different times. In all fairness, it probably is true that no one else could have lived with any of the three priests. But no one was more irritated by Damien's fame than Hawaii's Yankee missionaries.
Stern Puritan divines felt leprosy was the inevitable result of the Hawaiian people's licentiousness. In their puritanical judgement the Hawaiian people were corrupt and debased. The segregation policy would have to be enforced to hasten the inevitable physical and moral collapse of the essentially rotten Hawaiian culture. There were medical doctors who were so convinced of an essential connection between leprosy and sexual immorality that they insisted that leprosy could be spread only through sexual contact.
When Damien entered his prison at Molokai, he had to make a decision. He believed that the Hawaiians were basically good and not essentially corrupt. And now he had to show them belief, regardless of the price. Thus, somewhere during the first part of his stay he made the dread decision to set aside his fear of contagion. He touched his lepers, he embraced them, he dined with them, he cleaned and bandaged their wounds and sores. He placed the host upon their battered mouths. He put his thumb on their forehead when he annointed them with the holy oil. All these actions involved touch. Touch is, of course, necessary if one is to communicate love and concern. The Hawaiians instinctively knew this. And that is why the Hawaiians shrank from the Yankee divines. Although these Yankee religious leaders expended much money on their mission endeavors, few Hawaiians joined their churches. The islanders sensed the contempt in which the puritan minds held them.
On this altar which he constructed, Father Damien celebrated Mass each day. From the Eucharist, the priest drew strength to continue his lonely and perilous mission. After leprosy claimed him, and he entered into his "peculiar Golgotha," he found his deepest consolation and hope in the Mass.
Damien was not, as we have noted, blind to the Hawaiians' very real faults. Many Hawaiians, by their irregular sexual habits, greatly contributed to the spread of leprosy. But Damien knew that was not the only way the disease was communicated. Above all, he rejected the insufferable notion that God had laid this disease as a curse upon these people, to wipe them off the face of the earth. Damien hated leprosy. He didn't see it as a tool of a vengeful God. He saw it as a suffering that man must eliminate. God loved the leper. No man had the right to scorn him.
Thus, very early in his apostolate at Molokai, Damien was impelled to identify himself as closely as possible with his lepers. Long before he had the disease, he spoke of himself and the people of Molokai as "we lepers." Six months after his arrival at Kalawao he wrote his brother in Europe: "...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....'"
Damien embraced the leper but not leprosy. He lived in great dread of the disease. When he first experienced leprosy's symptomatic itching, while still a missionary at Kohala, some years before he went to Molokai, he knew then that the loathing diseased threatened him. Even when the disease had run a good bit of its brutal course through his body, he still at times seemed to refuse to admit he was a victim. But leprosy finally claimed him. It was the final price God exacted from Damien to show his sense of community and oneness with his poor afflicted flock.
Some said there was a connection between leprosy and venereal disease. In order to witness against those who claimed leprosy could only be spread by sexual contact, Damien submitted to the indignity of having his blood and body examined in detail after he had contracted the disease. Doctor Arning, a world-famous specialist in the disease, reported, after examination, that Damien had no sign of syphilis. In a signed statement dictated to Brother Joseph Dutton, his co-worker, Damien wrote, "I have never had sexual intercourse with anyone whomsoever."
History has borne out the wisdom of Damien's decision to take these embarrassing measures. Shortly after Damien's death, a Yankee divine of Honolulu, Doctor Charles McEwen Hyde, bitterly attacked the priest's moral life. The good clergyman opined that Damien got leprosy because he was licentious.
Father Damien was not lacking defenders. In a magnificent statement, Robert Louis Stevenson, who had visited Molokai after Damien's death, rose to champion the priest's cause. The author's defense of Damien rested upon the complete sacrifice the man made of his life. A sacrifice no Yankee missionary in Hawaii had duplicated.
The Knight Commander
The Hawaiian government decorated Father Damien with the Cross of the Royal Order of Kalakaua (above, left). The priest accepted the award but rarely wore the medal. In later stages of his own illness, Damien remarked, "The Lord decorated me with his own particular cross—leprosy."
If some white missionaries scorned Father Damien, most Hawaiians loved him. In September 1881, Hawaiian Princess Liliuokalani visited Molokai. The Princess, moved deeply by the lepers' suffering, was unable to give the speech she had prepared. Leaving Molokai with a broken heart, she returned to Honolulu and requested Father Damien to accept the Hawaiian Order of Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua in recognition of his "efforts in alleviating the distress and mitigating the sorrows of the unfortunate." With pleasure, Damien accepted the award. He felt it would bring attention to his lepers. There were many Americans, too, both in Hawaii and on the mainland, who recognized the work that Damien was doing and who sent, with characteristic American generosity, funds and other forms of help to him. In Honolulu, American Protestants were among his most generous benefactors. Opening their hearts and their purses to Damien, they sent him food, medicines, clothing, and all sorts of help for his mission.
My Insupportable Melancholy
Damien was alone of the frontier of death. His loneliness oppressed him. He speaks of his "black thoughts" and the "insupportable melancholy that arose from his lack of religious companionship." The Board of Health remonstrated with him because, ignoring the isolation policy, he climbed up and down the palisades to build chapels and to bring the Sacraments to the healthy people who dwelt on Molokai's plateau. His superiors were displeased with his trips to Honolulu. They felt he gave bad example in the face of the government's policy on segregation of lepers. Furthermore, two Sacred Hearts Fathers, laboring in other parts of the Hawaiian Islands, had contracted leprosy. The superiors did not want to force them to Molokai. They felt that Damien, by leaving the colony, might just precipitate a government crackdown.
He continually begged his superiors for a confrere, not only to assist him in the ever-mounting work, but also to provide spiritual comfort for him. He hungered above all for a priestly companion to whom he could confess and receive the Sacrament of Penance. His writings reveal his concern that he would forget the true purpose of his life. In a little notebook, he counseled himself: "Be severe toward yourself, indulgent toward others. Have scrupulous exactitude for everything regarding God: prayer, meditation, Mass, administration of the Sacraments. Unite your heart with God.... Remember always your three vows, by which you are dead to the things of the world. Remember always that God is eternal and work courageously in order one day to be united with him forever."
During one time when the isolation policy was being strictly enforced, a ship's captain, reacting to the government's orders, forbade Damien's bishop to disembark on Molokai. In order to see the bishop, Damien sailed out to the boat. The captain refused Damien's request to board. The priest pleaded in vain with the captain, saying that he wanted to confess his sins. "Bishop," the priest called to the boat, "will you hear my confession from here?" The bishop consented, and Damien in an exercise of humility that touched all who witnessed it, confessed his sins aloud to the bishop.
Damien The Leper
One day in December, 1884, while soaking his feet in extremely hot water, Father De Veuster experienced no sensation of heat or pain. The evil disease he had battled for so long now claimed him. In his last years he engaged in a flurry of activity. He hastened to complete his many building projects, enlarge his orphanages, organize his work. Help came from four unexpected sources. A priest, a soldier, a male nurse, and a nun. The soldier, Joseph Dutton, was the most unusual man. He had survived Civil War combat, a broken marriage, several years of hard drinking, to show up on Molokai's shores in July, 1886. He stayed forty-five years without ever leaving the colony. He served the lepers of the Baldwin Home for Boys. Joseph was never seriously ill until just before his death in 1931. He was just short of eighty-eight. Another layman, James Sinnett, a man who had a colorful and checkered career, during which he gained some experience in nursing in Mercy Hospital, Chicago, came to Molokai eight months before Father Damien died. The leper priest called him "Brother James." He nursed Father Damien during the final phase of his illness, and closed his eyes in death. During the last days of Damien's life, Sinnett served as his secretary. He was faithful to the very end, and when Damien died, Sinnett left the colony. Nothing was heard from him thereafter.
Father Louis-Lambert Conrardy, a fellow Belgian, joined Father Damien May 17, 1888. Archbishop William Gross of Oregon generously permitted Father Conrardy to leave his own priest-poor area to labor in Molokai. Archbishop Gross wrote of Conrardy: "I have trampled all over Oregon with Father Conrardy and he is a noble, heroic man.... Though he knows and realizes perfectly that he might succomb to the disease, his voluntary going is real heroism." Conrardy and Damien joined in their unreserved dedication to the lepers. Along with this, Conrardy provided the spiritual and social companionship that Damien so desperately craved.
The Sister who now offered at this critical junction support for Damien and his work, was Mother Marianne Kopp, Superior of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, New York, who served the Honolulu leper hospital. Damien requested Mother Marianne to send Sisters to care for the girls' orphanage at Molokai. Damien promised her that not one of her Sisters would ever be afflicted with leprosy. The Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse are still at Molokai. To this day, not one of them has ever contracted leprosy.
Damien's Last Days
In October, 1885, Damien wrote his superior, Father Leonor Fouesnel, in the Hawaiian Islands: "I am a leper. Blessed be the good God. I only ask one favor of you. Send someone to this tomb to be my confessor." (This was three years before Conrardy's arrival.) He wrote his General in Rome, "I have been decorated by the royal Cross of Kalakaua and now the heavier and less honorable cross of leprosy. Our Lord has willed that I be stigmatized with it.... I am still up and taking care of myself a little. I will keep on working...."
The announcement that Damien had leprosy hit his own religious superiors, Father Fouesnel and his bishop, Hermann Koeckemann, like a thunderbolt. Damien was the third Sacred Hearts missionary stricken with leprosy. To prevent further infection, Father Fouesnel forbade Damien to visit the mission headquarters of the Sacred Hearts Fathers in Honolulu. "If you come," Father Superior advised Damien, "you will be relegated to a room which you are not to leave until your departure." Father Fouesnel suggested that if Damien insisted on coming to Honolulu, he stay at the Franciscan Sisters' leper hospital. "But if you go there," the superior counseled, "please do not say Mass. For neither Father Clement nor I will consent to celebrate Mass with the same chalice and the same vestments you have used. The Sisters will refuse to receive Holy Communion from your hands." One can understand the superior's concern. But Damien was being forced, nevertheless, to consume the bitter wine of loneliness to its dregs. He now knew not only the physical sufferings of Christ but the harrowing loneliness and abandonment of his Savior. Damien did go to Honolulu and remained at the leprosarium from July 10 to 16. It was during the time that he arranged with Mother Marianne to come to Molokai. He spoke of his rejection by his own as "the greatest suffering he had ever endured in his life."
The Sorrowful Mother
Catherine De Veuster, Damien's mother, had lived all these years on the occasional letters he wrote to her from Molokai. He had tried to keep her from the news of his leprosy. But inevitably she found out. Someone advised her that the newspapers said, "the flesh of the leper priest of Molokai was falling off in hunks." It was too much for Catherine. Now eighty-three years of age, a widow for thirteen years, the shock of the sufferings of her son broke her old heart. On April 5, 1886, about four in the afternoon, turning her eyes for the last time toward the image of the Blessed Mother and the picture of her son, she bowed her head in that direction and died calmly and peacefully.
Doctor Mouritz, medical attendant at Molokai, charted the progress of the physical dissolution of Damien's body. He writes: "The skin of the abdomen, chest, the back, are beginning to show tubercles, masses of infiltration.... The membranes of the nose, roof of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx are involved; the skin of his cheeks, nose, lips, forehead, and chin are excessively swollen.... His body is becoming emaciated."
An ever-deepening mental distress accompanied Damien's physical dissolution. A severe depression, as well as religious scruples, now plagued the leper priest. Damien felt he was unworthy of heaven. The rejection by his religious superiors left him in near disarray. Once he claimed: "From the rest of the world I received gold and frankincense, but from my own superiors myrrh" (a bitter herb). His superiors complained about Father Conrardy's presence on Molokai. Conrardy was not a religious of the Sacred Hearts, and they felt that Damien had encouraged his presence there as a reproach to their ineffectual efforts to provide him with a companion. Soon after Damien's death, the Sacred Hearts superiors maneuvered Father Conrardy out of the colony.
As death approached, Father Damien engaged in a flurry of activity. He worked as much as his wounded and broken body would permit him. He wrote his bishop, entreating not to be dispensed from the obligation of the Breviary, which he continued to recite as best he could as his eyes failed. The disease invading his windpipe progressed to such an extent that it kept him from sleeping more than an hour or two at night. His voice was reduced to a raucous whisper. Leprosy was in his throat, his lungs, his stomach, and his intestines. After ravaging his body outwardly, it was now destroying him from within.
As the end drew near, there were priests of his own Congregation to hear his confession. They had come with the Franciscan Sisters. On March 30, one of them, a Father Moellers, heard Damien's last confession. The leper priest had requested a funeral pall, which the Sisters made from him and delivered from Honolulu. It arrived the same day. Two more weeks of suffering, and on April 15, 1889, Damien died. It was Holy Week. Some weeks before, Damien had said that the Lord wanted him to spend Easter in heaven.
Once he had written, "The cemetery, the church and rectory form one enclosure; thus at nighttime I am still keeper of this garden of the dead, where my spiritual children lie at rest. My greatest pleasure is to go there to say my by beads and meditate on that unending happiness which so many of them are enjoying." And now it was his turn to occupy a little plot of ground in "his garden of the dead."
He no longer meditated on that unending happiness, but now most surely possessed it. Long ago he had selected the precise spot for his grave amid the two thousand lepers buried in Molokai cemetery. Coffin bearers laid him to rest under his pandanus tree. It was the same tree that had sheltered him the day he read those fateful words: "You may stay as long as your devotion dictates...."
[Fr. Damien was beatified in June of 1995 under the title of Blessed Father Damien—Servant of Humanity.]
(This work was originally published in 1974 by the Franciscans of St. Anthony's Guild, Patterson, New Jersey. Used with permission from the Sacred Hearts Community Website. For more information about the Sacred Hearts Community please visit http://www.sscc.org )
Provided Courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network, 5817 Old Leeds Road, Irondale, AL 35210
SOURCE : http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/DAMIEN.HTM
San Damiano de Veuster Sacerdote
Tremenloo, Belgio, 3 gennaio 1840 - Molokai, Isole Hawaii, 15 aprile 1889
I coniugi fiamminghi De Veuster hanno otto figli. Due diverranno suore e due preti dei Sacri Cuori di Gesù e Maria, detti anche «Società del Picpus», dalla via di Parigi dove è nata la congregazione. Giuseppe, penultimo degli otto, nato il 3 gennaio 1840, è destinato ad aiutare il padre, ma a 19 anni entra anche lui al Picpus prendendo il nome di fratel Damiano. Nell'istituto c'è anche suo fratello Pamphile: ordinato prete nel 1863, non va in missione perché malato e allora Damiano parte al suo posto anche se non è ancora sacerdote. Destinazione le Isole Sandwich, che più tardi si chiameranno Hawaii. Qui completa gli studi e diventa sacerdote nel 1864 e lavora nell'isola principale, Hawaii. Nel 1873 va nell'isola lazzaretto di Molokai, dove il governo confina i malati di lebbra e vi resterà per sempre. Nel 1885 viene contagiato. Muore dopo un mese e solo nel 1936 il suo corpo verrà riportato in Belgio. Giovanni Paolo II lo beatificò a Bruxelles nel 1995, mentre Benedetto XVI lo ha canonizzato in Piazza San Pietro l'11 ottobre 2009.
Etimologia: Damiano = domatore, o del popolo, dal greco
Martirologio Romano: In località Kalawao sull’isola di Molokai in Oceania, beato Damiano de Veuster, sacerdote della Congregazione dei Missionari dei Sacri Cuori di Gesù e Maria, che attese con tale dedizione all’assistenza dei lebbrosi, da morire colpito anch’egli dalla lebbra.
I coniugi fiamminghi De Veuster hanno otto figli, da cui escono due suore e due preti dei “Sacri Cuori di Gesù e Maria”, detti anche “Società del Picpus”, dalla via di Parigi dove è nata la congregazione. Giuseppe, penultimo degli otto, è destinato ad aiutare il padre, ma a 19 anni entra anche lui al Picpus prendendo il nome di fratel Damiano. Nell’istituto c’è anche suo fratello Pamphile: ordinato prete nel 1863, Pamphile non va in missione perché malato, e allora Damiano ottiene di partire al posto del fratello, anche se non è ancora stato ordinato sacerdote.
Destinazione della missione: le Isole Sandwich, così chiamate dal loro scopritore James Cook nel 1778 in onore di Lord Sandwich, capo della Marina inglese. Sono un arcipelago indipendente sotto una monarchia locale, e più tardi si chiameranno Isole Hawaii.
Damiano le raggiunge dopo 138 giorni di navigazione, da Brema a Honolulu. Completa gli studi, diventa sacerdote nel 1864 e lavora nell’isola principale, Hawaii. Istruisce la gente nella fede e insegna ad allevare montoni e maiali, come pure a coltivare la terra. Il divario culturale crea ostacoli duri, la solitudine a volte gli pare insopportabile.
Ma è solo un primo collaudo. Nel 1873 il suo vescovo cerca preti volontari per l’isola lazzaretto di Molokai, dove il governo confina tutti i malati di lebbra, togliendoli alle famiglie: si offrono in quattro, per turni di 34 settimane, e tra loro c’è padre Damiano, che va per primo a Molokai e vi resterà per sempre (tranne un breve soggiorno a Honolulu). Ci deve restare, perché il governo teme il contagio e gli proibisce di lasciare l’isola con i suoi 780800 malati ad alta mortalità: 183 decessi nei primi otto mesi.
Ma "tanti ne seppelliamo, altrettanti ne manda il governo". Ora fuma la pipa per difesa contro l’insopportabile odore di carne in disfacimento, che a volte lo fa svenire in chiesa. A Molokai è prete, medico e padre: cura le anime, lava le piaghe, distribuisce medicine, stimola il senso di dignità dei malati, che si organizzano, lavorano la terra, creano orfanotrofi: opera loro, orgoglio loro.
Nel 1885, ecco la scoperta: anche lui è stato contagiato dalla lebbra. Ed è solo, aspettando a lungo un altro prete per confessarsi, fino all’arrivo del padre belga Conrardy, pochi mesi prima della morte. Sopporta incomprensioni, ma è capace di dire: "Sono tranquillo e rassegnato, e anche più felice in questo mio mondo". Fino all’ultimo aiuta gli studi sulla lebbra, sperimentando su di sé nuovi farmaci.
Muore dopo un mese di letto, e mille malati di lebbra lo seppelliscono ai piedi di un albero. Nel 1936 il suo corpo verrà riportato in Belgio, a Lovanio. Giovanni Paolo II lo ha beatificato a Bruxelles nel 1995, continuando l’iter iniziato da Paolo VI nel 1967 su richiesta di 33 mila lebbrosi e concluso da Benedetto XVI che lo ha canonizzato in Piazza San Pietro l'11 ottobre 2009.
Autore: Domenico Agasso
Voir aussi : http://www.ssccpicpus.com/pag.aspx?ln=en&id=87