Saint Damien of Molokai, St John of Avila

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Saint Damien of Molokai

Missionary. Born in Tremelo, Belgium, in 1840, Joseph de Veuster, left school at 13 to help on the family farm. He entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary six years later, taking the name of a fourth-century physician and martyr. When his brother Pamphile, a priest in the same congregation, fell ill and was unable to go to the Hawaiian Islands as assigned, Damien quickly volunteered in his place. In May 1864, two months after arriving in his new mission, Damien was ordained a priest in Honolulu and assigned to the island of Hawaii.

In 1873, he went to the Hawaiian government's leper colony on the island of Molokai, set up seven years earlier. Part of a team of four chaplains taking that assignment for three months each year, Damien soon volunteered to remain permanently, caring for the people's physical, medical, and spiritual needs. In time, he became their most effective advocate to obtain promised government support.

Under Fr Damien's care the settlement soon had new houses and a new church, school and orphanage. Morale improved considerably. A few years later, he succeeded in getting the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, led by Mother Marianne Cope, to help staff this colony in Kalaupapa. The author Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived in Samoa, was a friend and wrote about him.

Damien contracted leprosy himself eventually and died on 15 April 1889. He was just 49 years old.

President Barack Obama, who grew up in Hawaii, said: "In our own time as millions around the world suffer from disease, especially the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, we should draw on the example of Fr Damien's resolve in answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick."

Damien was beautified by St Pope John Paul II in 1995 and canonized by Pope Benedict in 1995.

St John of Avila

Priest, writer, mystic. John was born in 1500 in New Castile to wealthy Jewish parents. He studied law at Salamanca but then gave the subject up to devote himself to prayer and penance for three years. He then went to Alcala and studied theology under Dominic de Soto.

In 1525 John was ordained. He gave away his inheritance to the poor and wanted to join the missions in Mexico. Instead he was asked to re-evanglise Andalusia which had been under Moorish influence for many years. His mission was very successful and people flocked to hear him preach. He fell foul of the Inquisition however, who found his preaching too rigorous and particularly objected to his view that the rich would be excluded from heaven. The charges were eventually dropped, and after three years imprisonment he was released to great popular acclaim.

Saint John was spiritual director to many saints, including Theresa of Avila, Francis Borgia and John of God. He wrote on many spiritual subjects. His most famous work was Audi Filia, written in 1530 for Dona Sancha Carillo, who had given up wealth and status for a life of solitary prayer.

During his last 15 years he suffered much ill health. A great admirer of St Ignatius Loyola, for a time he considered joining the Jesuits. After his death in 1569, he was buried in the Jesuit church at Montilla. He was canonised in 1970.

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