Father Damien, Apostle of the Lepers to be canonized 11 October

Father Damien

Father Damien

Missionary Father Damien de Veuster (1840-1889), of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, proclaimed Blessed by John Paul II in Brussels (Belgium) on June 4, 1995, will be canonized by Benedict XVI on Sunday, October 11, in Saint Peter's Square.

Father Damien de Veuster is universally known as 'The Apostle of the Lepers,' for his decision to remain, on his own, among the lepers on the island of Molokai, where he ended up contracting the disease himself.

His heroic testimony sparked public interest on the issue of lepers and their marginalization. The very year of his death, an association working against leprosy was founded in London, later followed by other initiatives and associations such as 'Friends of Fr Damien.'

In 1954, Raoul Follereau, impressed by the testimony of Fr Damian, began the 'World Leprosy Day.'

As John Paul II affirmed in his homily at the Beatification Mass: "Fr  Damien displayed a particular form of holiness in his ministry; he was at once a priest, religious and missionary. With these three qualities, he revealed the face of Christ, showing the path of salvation, teaching the Gospel and working tirelessly for development.

"He organized religious, social and fraternal life on Molokai, at the time an island of banishment from society; with him everyone had a place, each one was recognized and loved by his brothers and sisters... While Damien was among the sick, he could say in his heart: 'Our Lord will give me the graces I need to carry my cross and follow him, even to our special Calvary at Kalawao'.

"The certainty that only things that count are love and the gift of self was his inspiration and the source of his happiness. The apostle of the lepers is a shining example of how the love of God does not take us away from the world. Far from it: the love of Christ makes us love our brothers and sisters even to the point of giving up our lives for them.”

Upon Fr  Damien's canonization, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts and the Superior General of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts published a letter in which they recalled that “Damien is a universal brother, model of humanity, apostle of the lepers, hero of charity, inspiration for every human being who feels called to serve the marginalized and forgotten, pride of the Belgian and Hawaiian peoples, glory of the entire Church.”

The Catholic Church today runs 521 leprosy colonies: 186 in Africa, 38 in America, 293 in Asia, 3 in Europe, 1 in Oceania (from the Annuary Statistics of the Church).

Father Damien de Veuster: A Biographical Sketch

Joseph (later Fr Damien) de Veuster was born January 3, 1840 in Tremelo, Diocese of Malines (Belgium). Brought up in the Christian faith by his parents, he went to elementary school in Wechter and after four years of working on the family farm, in January 1859, he followed his brother Auguste (later Fr Pamphile), entering the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, in Louvain.

Although he had not followed the normal course of priestly formation, his Superiors allowed him to take on superior studies, seeing his intellectual gifts. He completed his Novitiate in Louvain and Paris, but after two years he suddenly felt drawn towards the mission in Oceania. On October 7, 1860, he made his perpetual vows in the Congregation and after a year of studying philosophy in Paris, returned to the Louvain to study theology. His brother, sent to be a missionary on the Hawaiian Islands, became sick and Fr Damien offered to take his place on the expedition. Setting off November 9, 1963, he arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864, where he was ordained a sub-deacon, deacon, and priest on May 21, 1864. For nine years he ministered on the larger island of Hawaii.

In response to an appeal from the Bishop, who requested priests to take turns ministering to the lepers of Molokai, Fr Damien volunteered to consecrate his entire life to lepers marginalized from society and living in a situation of extreme suffering, both spiritually and materially speaking.

Fr Damien set off for the island of Molokai on May 10, 1873. “I want to sacrifice myself for the poor lepers,” he wrote to his Provincial Superior, and chose to remain, all alone, among the lepers, sharing in their miseries and sufferings, to the point of becoming infected with the disease himself.

At the end of his missionary life at the service of the lepers, he wrote in a letter to his brother Pamphile: “I am the happiest missionary in the world...” After having transformed that island of suffering into a community of brothers, he died on Molokai, a victim of leprosy, on April 15, 1889.

In 1936, Fr Damien's remains were taken to Belgium, where a solemn funeral service were held and he  was reinterred  in the church of the Sacred Hearts Fathers in Louvain.

Source: Fides

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