Friday, May 11, 2012



Vatican City, 10 May 2012 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican Benedict XVI welcomed a delegation from the Latin American Jewish Congress, "the first group representing Jewish organisations and communities in Latin America which I have met here in the Vatican", the Pope said. He went on to recall that "dynamic Jewish communities exist throughout Latin America, especially in Argentina and Brazil, living alongside a large Catholic majority. Beginning with the years of Vatican Council II relations between Jews and Catholics have become stronger, also in your own region, and various initiatives are afoot to make our mutual friendship deeper".
The Holy Father reaffirmed that the Vatican Council II Declaration "Nostra aetate" continues "to be the basis and the guide for our efforts towards promoting greater understanding, respect and cooperation between our communities. The Declaration not only took up a clear position against all forms anti-Semitism, but also laid the foundations for a new theological evaluation of the Church’s relationship with Judaism, expressing the confidence that an appreciation of the spiritual heritage that Jews and Christians share will lead to increasing understanding and esteem".
"In considering the progress made in the last fifty years of Jewish-Catholic relations throughout the world, we cannot but give thanks to the Almighty for this evident sign of His goodness and providence. Thanks to the increase of trust, respect and goodwill, groups whose relations were originally characterised by a certain lack of trust, have little by little become faithful partners and friends, even good friends, capable of facing crises together and overcoming conflicts in a positive manner. Of course there is still a great deal to be done to shake off the burdens of the past, to foment better relations between our communities and to respond to the increasing challenges believers have to face in the modern world. Nonetheless, the fact that we are jointly committed to a path of dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation is a reason for thanksgiving".
"In a world increasingly threatened by the loss of spiritual and moral values - the values that can guarantee respect for human dignity and lasting peace - sincere and respectful dialogue among religions and cultures is crucial for the future of our human family. I hope that your visit today will be a source of encouragement and renewed trust when we come to face the challenge of forming stronger ties of friendship and collaboration, and of bearing prophetic witness to the power of God's truth, justice and love, for the good of all humanity", the Holy Father concluded.

Vatican City, 10 May 2012 (VIS) - "I am very happy to receive you on this day on which you are commemorating fifty years at the current site of the Pontifical Spanish College of St. Joseph, and on the liturgical memory of St. John of Avila, patron of the Spanish secular clergy whom I will soon declare a Doctor of the universal Church", said Benedict XVI to students, rectors superiors and religious of that Roman seminary whom he received in audience this morning.
"The formation of priests is always one of the Church's most important priorities", the Pope went on. "Having been sent to Rome to continue your priestly studies you must concentrate, not so much on your own individual good, as on serving the holy people of God, who need pastors who commit themselves to the service of sanctifying the faithful with ability and competence. ... Remember, however, that the priest renews his own life and draws strength for his ministry through contemplating the Divine Word, and through intense dialogue with the Lord. He is aware that he cannot bring his brothers and sisters to Christ, nor see Him in the poor and the sick, unless he first discovers Him in fervent and constant prayer. ... The path of priestly formation is also a school of missionary communion: with Peter's Successor, with your bishop and with your fellow priests, and always at the service of the particular and the universalChurch".
"Dear priests, may the life and doctrine of the Holy Master St. John of Avila illuminate and support you during your stay at the Pontifical Spanish College of St. Joseph. His profound knowledge of Holy Scripture, the Fathers, the Councils, liturgy and sound theology, accompanied by his faithful and filial love for the Church, made him a true renovator at a difficult time in ecclesiastical history". Pope Benedict went on to quote words pronounced by Paul VI when he canonised that Spanish saint in 1970. "His was a far-sighted and ardent spirit which, in addition to denouncing evils and suggesting canonical remedies, also cultivated a school of intense spirituality"
"The teaching of the Apostle of Andalucia focuses on the mystery of Christ, Priest and Good Shepherd, experienced in harmony with the Lord's own sentiments and in imitation of St. Paul. ... I invite you, then, to exercise your priestly ministry with the same apostolic zeal that characterised him, with the same austerity of life, and with the same filial affection as he had for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of priests", the Holy Father concluded.

Vatican City, 10 May 2012 (VIS) - "The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another" is the theme of the fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress, due to be held in the Irish capital Dublin from 10 to 17 June. The initiative was presented this morning in the Holy See Press Office by Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, and Fr. Vittore Boccardi S.S.S. of the secretariat of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.
"The Roman Ritual 'De sacra Communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam' establishes what an International Eucharistic Congress actually is", Archbishop Marini explained. That document, "enacting the principles of Vatican Council II, defines the Congress as a 'statio orbis'; in other words, a 'a pause for commitment and prayer to which a particular community invites the universal Church'. During that time the celebration of the Eucharist becomes the centre and vertex of all forms of piety, ... of theological and pastoral reflections, of social commitment".
"By a noteworthy coincidence", the archbishop went on, "the fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress of Dublin coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II; and it is to the Council that the Congress will refer because the theme chosen - 'The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another - has been taken from paragraph 7 of the Dogmatic Constitution 'Lumen gentium'. That theme reminds the baptised that it is by participating in the Eucharist that we construct communion with Christ and, at the same time, with one another; in other words, the most authentic face of the Church. ... Progressive emphasis on the ecclesiology of communion 'according to which the Eucharist has a causal influence at the very origins of the Church', is replete with pastoral, ecclesial and ecumenical consequences, which will be studied in Dublin at a theological symposium to be held before theCongress".
Archbishop Marini explained that the event will be attended by thousands of faithful from all over the world who, apart from celebrating the Eucharist together, will pray and participate in a number of processions, eighteen general conferences and 150 workshops and discussion groups, examining important religious themes and experiencing "authentic ecclesial solidarity".
For his part Archbishop Martin recalled that Dublin had also hosted the thirty-first International Eucharistic Congress in 1932. "The Church in Ireland in 1932 was very different to the Church in Ireland today", he said. "The Eucharistic Congress must address its participants in the context of the culture in which they live". In 2012 it must "reflect and present the Church in Ireland, a Church which has faced and continues to face enormous challenges, but a Church which is alive, energetic and anxious to start a journey of renewal.
"There are divisions within the Irish Church", he added, "sometimes unhealthy divisions. I believe it is helpful to look back to 1932 and to Irish society of the time, which less than a decade previously had been lacerated by a harsh civil war lasting two years. It is a fact of great honour to my predecessor Archbishop Edward Byrne that he celebrated the Congress as a moment of reconciliation and rediscovered unity. For the first time in the newly independent Ireland, men and woman on both sides of a bitter divide met to work together on a shared project. The Eucharist has the power to reconcile. Communion with Christ nourishes communion and reconciliation with others".
Archbishop Martin went on: "The fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress of Dublin will again be a moment of renewal and reconciliation; an event reawakening awareness among all Catholics of the central place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, the true summit to which all Church activities strive, the source whence all Church life pours forth". The Congress will remind the Church in Ireland "of the centrality of spiritual renewal and of the significance of the Church as the Body of Christ", he said.
The archbishop of Dublin also announced that the Congress will have an ecumenical aspect, with the participation of other Christian Churches in Ireland. The event will conclude in Croke Park on 17 June with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Marc Ouellet P.S.S., prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and pontifical delegate to the Congress. During the Mass a televised message from the Pope will be broadcast.

Vatican City, 10 May 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. During the audience he extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1089-1179) to the universal Church, inscribing her in the catalogue of saints. He also authorised the promulgation of decrees concerning the following causes:
- Servant of God Tommaso da Olera (ne Tommaso Acerbis), Italian professed layman of the Order of St. Benedict (1563-1631).
- Servant of God Maria Troncatti, Italian professed sister of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Help (1883-1969).
- Servants of Gods Frederic Bachstein and thirteen companions of the Order of Friars Minor, killed in hatred of the faith at Prague, Czech Republic in 1611.
- Servants of God Raimundo Castano Gonzalez and Jose Maria Gonzalez Solis, professed priests of the Order of Friars Preachers, killed in hatred of the faith at Bilbao, Spain in 1936.
- Servants of God Jaime Puig Mirosa and eighteen companions of the Congregation of the Sons of the Sacred Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and Sebastian Llorens Telarroja, layman, killed in hatred of the faith in Spain between 1936 and 1937.
- Servant of God Odoardo Focherini, Italian layman, killed in hatred of the faith at Hersbruck, Germany in 1944.
- Servant of God Raffaello Delle Nocche, Italian bishop of Tricarico and founder of the Sisters Disciples of the Eucharistic Jesus (1877-1960).
- Servant of God Frederic Irenej Baraga, Slovene American, first bishop of Marquette (1797-1868).
- Servant of God Pasquale Uva, Italian diocesan priest and founder of the Congregation of Sisters Handmaidens of Divine Providence (1883-1955).
- Servant of God Baltazar Manuel Pardal Vidal, Spanish diocesan priest and founder of the Secular Institute of the Daughters of Mary's Nativity (1886-1963).
- Servant of God Francesco Di Paola Victor, Brazilian diocesan priest (1827-1905).
- Servant of God Jacques Sevin, French professed priest of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and founder of the Catholic Scouts of France and of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem (1882-1951).
- Servant of God Maria Josefa of the Blessed Sacrament (nee Maria Josefa Recio Martin), founder of the Congregation of Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1846-1883).
- Servant of God Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, American professed sister of the Congregation of the Sisters of Chraity of St. Elizabeth (1901-1927).
- Servant of God Emilia Engel, German member of the Secular Institute of Sisters of Maria of Schonstatt, (1893-1955).
- Servant of God Rachele Ambrosini, Italian lay woman (1925-1941).
- Servant of God Maria Bolognesi, Italian lay woman (1924-1980).
On 14 March, the Supreme Pontiff authorised the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree regarding the heroic virtues of Servant of God Felix Francisco Jose de la Concepcion Varela Morales, Cuban diocesan priest (1788-1853).

Vatican City, 10 May 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father:
- Appointed Bishop Jose Roberto Ospina Leongomez, auxiliary of Bogota, Colombia, as bishop of Buga (area 3,997, population 626,000, Catholics 563,000, priests 107, permanent deacons 3, religious 160), Colombia. He succeeds Bishop Hernan Giraldo Jaramillo, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.
- Appointed Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo jung, auxiliary and vicar general of the archdiocese of Seoul, Korea, as archbishop of the same archdiocese (area 606, population 10,575,446, Catholics 1,417,695, priests 905, religious 2,380). He succeeds Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.


The provisional toll is 40 dead and 170 wounded. AsiaNews sources describe him as one of the most violent attacks since the war against Assad. The explosion was felt throughout the city. Struck the headquarters of military intelligence and other buildings of the scheme.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - "It 's one of the most violent attacks since the start of the war between the Assad regime and the rebels. The explosion was heard throughout the city. The shock wave damaged buildings and injured people even several kilometers from the scene of the attack, even the Melkite cathedral was damaged. " This is what AsiaNews sources report of the twin bombings that struck this morning south of Damascus. According to state media, there are at least 40 dead and 170 wounded, many in serious condition.

The sources said the two bombs exploded at 7.55 (local time) on the highway linking the capital with the southern cities of the country, during rush hour. There are several public buildings in the area, including the headquarters of military intelligence, the probable target of the attack. "No one has claimed responsibility for the act - they explain - the population is disoriented and afraid." However, the regime says those responsible are the Free the Syrian Army "terrorists". Instead according to the opposition, the attack was organized by the regime to discredit the rebels and foment tensions.

To shed some light on the incident, a UN observer delegation led by Gen. Robert Mood, which was involved yesterday in an attack on a UN convoy in Daraa (southern Syria), arrived at the scene.

This is the second serious attack in Damascus reported since the beginning of the year and takes place just days before the first democratic elections in the history of the country, boycotted however, by the opposition. On 26 April a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in the city center killing 10 people. (SC)


Cardinal John Njue of Kenya

NAIROBI, May 8, 2012 (CISA)
-The Church in Kenya has condemned a recent report calling for legalization of both homosexuality and prostitution.
On Friday May 4, a section of the local media reported that the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHRC) had recommended that same-sex relationships and prostitution should be legalized in the country.
But Cardinal John Njue on Saturday, May 5 said the Catholic Church was totally opposed to legislation of homosexuality and prostitution.
“If the two are allowed to happen, where will be our family? Will it not be a total destruction of the family? This is why we are totally against this,” he explained.
He urged parliament through its members to assist the Church campaign against the move.
“We appeal to our MPs to lobby against the move on behalf of the Church and other institutions opposed to the two issues,” Cardinal Njue said at a fund-raising drive in Nairobi.
The Church’s stand has received backing from the Muslim’s Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), whose Secretary General, Sheikh Mohammed Dor said that the country’s Constitution does not permit same sex marriages.
“Article 45 of the Constitution states that every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex,” he noted.


Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
11 May 2012

Three generations. Hien (seated) with
daughter Lieu (r) and her three granddaughters,
Uyen 13, Quyen 12, and Tram 11
When it comes to motherhood, Cabramatta's Vietnamese-born, Hien Thi Vo is a standout. Not only has she brought up four sons and two daughters as well as help raise her seven lively grandchildren, but from the age of 10, she was "mother" to her younger brothers and sisters. By the time she was 20, Hien had played "mother" to 14 of her siblings.
"I cannot find the words to express the gratitude, love and respect I have for my mother," says Hien's second eldest daughter, Thuy Lieu Tran, affectionately known as "Lieu" to her family and friends. "Her love for us has never failed, and it was through her love, sacrifice and the courage of both my parents that we were able to flee Vietnam and eventually find safety here in Australia."
On Sunday, 13 May when families across the country will gather to celebrate Mother's Day, at Lieu's parents' home in Cabramatta, there will be an extra special celebration to honour 63-year-old Hien and pay tribute to her for her love, warmth, gentle humour and unfailing support in good times and bad.
"On the morning of Mother's Day we always go to Mass together to dedicate our family to Mary, the Mother of God, and to give thanks for our good fortune and our lives here in Australia," Lieu says.
As they do most Sundays, the family will celebrate Mass at Cabramatta's Sacred Heart Church where Lieu's brother and Hien's second youngest son is Assistant Parish Priest, Father Liem Duong.
"Later on Mother's Day we will share a special dinner with my mother and father, and our paternal grandmother, Vo Thi Tam. Sometimes we hold our Mother's Day dinner at a restaurant but usually it is at my parents' house, where everyone is relaxed, full of laughter and where we all pitch in to help."
Now a mother herself and married for just over 15 years, Lieu has three daughters aged 13, 12 and 11 and a 10-year-old son.

Hien's Vietnamese parents and elder sister visit Sydney
to meet their Australian-born great grandchildren
"My husband and I have a tiling business and start work early, and finish late. So my father picks my kids up after school each day and my mother looks after them until I arrive to collect them at around 7 pm. By the time I get there, she's bathed them and they've even done their homework! She will have cooked meals for us as well. She is amazing and so filled with love. For her, nothing is too much trouble and she does this for my sister's children and my brothers as well."
With six children and seven grandchildren, Hien is used to the typical arguments and spats that can break out between siblings. But when this occurs, she steps in and gently points out within a family, no matter what the squabbling is about, "there is no such thing as a winner or a loser, only a failure of love."
These days, while Hien's grandchildren may have the odd squabbles, Lieu says upsets between herself, her sister and four brothers are extremely rare.
"We were separated for many years during our flight from Vietnam. That time apart was very difficult and made us appreciate one another even more. It brought us even closer together and today we live within five minutes of each other and get together as a family every chance we get."
Seemingly ageless, serene, elegant, with a warm smile and gentle manner, it is difficult to believe Lieu's mother has endured war, terror, poverty as well as a forced separation over several years from her husband and three of her children. She has also had to endure the pain of leaving her own beloved parents and many brothers and sisters behind when she fled her homeland in a bid to ensure the safety of her children.
Arriving here Australia in middle age, she was faced with the challenge of adapting herself to a whole new way of life in a land with a completely different culture and language.

88 year old great grand mother presides
over four generations of Sydney's Duong family
But from an early age, Hien has had courage, determination and great strength of will.
Born the second eldest of 16 children, under Vietnamese tradition her elder sister received a full education while Hien was the daughter chosen to remain at home to help raise her younger siblings and to work in the rice fields and on the family farm.
Her family were Buddhist, but at 20 when she met and married Duong Van So, she converted to Catholicism.
"My father's family are Catholic and like my mother, he came from a large family. He had 11 brothers and sisters and when Huyen, my sister who is the eldest, arrived, both my grandmothers were also giving birth," Lieu says smiling. She adds that her paternal grandmother, Vo Thi Tam came to live with her parents in Australia after her grandfather died and now at 88, has 90 grandchildren including several who are great or great great grandchildren.
While no one else in Hien's large Buddhist family became Catholic, there was no conflict about her decision to convert. In fact according to Lieu, Hien's family were inspired in many ways by her new faith and the way in which Catholics live and carry their faith.
For the new mother and her young husband, living through the Vietnam War was difficult enough. But times became even more difficult after the fall of Saigon and pullout of American and Australian troops in 1975. This was when North Vietnam's communist government in Hanoi asserted its authority. Almost immediately basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from persecution and torture disappeared. With basic infrastructure destroyed during the war, life for South Vietnamese Hien and her family was hard and tenuous. Food was at a premium, hunger common and life generally both frightening and uncertain.

Hien's second youngest son
Fr Liem Duong is Assistant
Parish Priest at Sacred
Heart Parish Parramatta
Finally in April 1987, Hien's husband, Duong Van So, who owned his own bus and supported his family ferrying passengers to towns and villages across the South, decided the only chance of a future was to joined the hundreds of thousands of other South Vietnamese fleeing his homeland in search of a better and safer life for his wife and children.
Taking his youngest son with him, he spent almost a year in an overcrowded refugee camp in Indonesia. But finally in December almost 10 months later, he received permission to settle in Australia.
Settling in Fairfield, near relatives who had also managed to escape South Vietnam, his immediate priority was to arrange visas so his wife, Hien and the rest of the family could join him.
But by now his two eldest children were adults and Huyen, Lieu's elder sister, was also newly married. In their early 20s they were too old to be considered his dependents and instead had to make their own way to Australia.
They managed to get as far as Malaysia and for the following four years battled the squalor and desperation of an overcrowded refugee camp outside Kuala Lumpur. But the applications for visas to settle in Australia were unsuccessful and in 1993, rounded up by Malaysian authorities they were sent back to Vietnam where they began new applications in a bid for a visa.
From 1987 when her husband had boarded a flimsy boat for Indonesia and then Australia, Hien had struggled to survive and feed herself and her three young children. Finally she received the long awaited news that she and her children had been accepted for settlement in Australia. Hien and her children arrived in Sydney by air in May 1992, almost exactly 20 years ago. But her joyful reunion with her husband and youngest child, were tempered by worry over her two elder children and her so-in-law who at the time were still in the refugee camp in Malaysia.
"But my mother never lost hope and in 1995, eight years after my father and youngest brother had fled Vietnam, her prayers were answered," says Lieu. "That's when my sister and her husband and my brother finally received visas to settle in Australia. They flew from Vietnam to Sydney and there, for the first time in eight years, we were all together as a family once more."

Vietnamese-born Fr Liem Duong
with Sydney's Vietnamese Community
Hien's strong Catholic faith has not only been her sustenance and strength throughout her married life but throughout the difficult times when she was unaware if her husband was even alive, or if she would ever see her eldest daughter and son again.
"She was 20 when she became a Catholic but she's always been even more religious than my Dad, who was brought up Catholic. And she's always been the one who made sure we went to Mass and were brought up good Catholics!" Lieu says with a smile.
Hien's conversion to Catholicism has never stopped her from remaining in close and loving touch with her Buddhist parents and many siblings. And as Vietnam became a freer more open nation once more, her parents and most of her brothers and sisters have been able to visit her in Australia to share in her happiness and to meet their Australian-born grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Today at 64, Hien who will celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary later this year, is a true testament to family, faith, strength and the power of love.
"There is a beautiful saying in Vietnam that describes the love of a mother to the vastness of the ocean and as sweet and gentle as a stream. That is what my mother's love is like," says Lieu who believes her mother's greatest legacy is her faith and her unconditional and all embracing love.
"As a mother I want my children to experience the power of that love through me and the love of God," she says. "I want my children to always feel love at home and that as long as they feel this love surrounding our house, to want to stay and remain in that love. Like my mother, I try to create a house filled with love, compassion, charity and caring so that my children will not only share in that love but become people of love as well."


Agenzia Fides REPORT- The Catholic Church in Bolivia calls for dialogue and to avoid violence, "before the rising tide of social protest in Bolivia". In fact the country is preparing for a strike on behalf of drivers and doctors, willing to strike for 72 hours, with the imaginable consequences, starting today, Wednesday, May 9. In the statement of the Episcopal Conference entitled "urgent and responsible Dialogue", of which a copy was sent to Fides, we read the Bishops' request addressed to public authorities and social sectors, to avoid any conflict or act of violence and resume the path of dialogue".
The statement comes at a time when a growing wave of social unrest in Bolivia is being experienced for the 48-hour strike of public transport drivers that will paralyze the country's cities, including La Paz and other 5 regions. The landscape of social tension is compounded by the strike of doctors and paramedics of the public health system. "We are concerned about the extreme measures of social pressure on many people who risk their integrity - says the document - for the conflict that does not stop in the health sector, for economic losses suffered by individuals, companies and merchants, due to road blocks, and for the malaise of the population." (CE) (Agenzia Fides 09/05/2012)


Death of WWII Navy surgeon who became monk at Ampleforth  | Fr Benedict Webb,  Ampleforth

Fr Benedict Webb OSB
Fr Benedict Webb, a monk of Ampleforth since 1950, died peacefully in the monastery Infirmary at Ampleforth on Tuesday 8 May at the age of 92. He had been a monk for just over sixty years.

Brendan Webb, who was originally from East Grinstead, went to school at Ampleforth College and in 1938 went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read medicine. With the onset of war, the three-year course was reduced to two years in order to maintain the supply of qualified doctors in future years. From Cambridge Brendan joined the medical school at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and qualified in April 1943. He then joined the Royal Navy as a Surgeon Lieutenant RNVR and took part in convoy escorts in the Atlantic, the Normandy landings, and then in the Far East Fleet and the recapture of Hong Kong from the Japanese. In 1946, after his return to the UK from the Far East Fleet, Brendan was informed that he was being awarded a Mention in Despatches. The citation made reference to Brendan Webb saving the lives of two men after a collision in thick fog in the channel between the frigate HMS Hart and HMS Rochester as they were pursuing a German submarine in 1944.

Brendan Webb left the Royal Navy in July 1946. For some years he had been conscious of a desire to become a monk and in September 1946 he was clothed at Ampleforth Abbey, taking the name ‘Benedict’. He made Solemn Vows in 1950 and was ordained priest in 1953 and for the next three years worked as the monastery’s Infirmarian, as well as teaching biology in the school. In 1956, he was appointed the first Housemaster of St Hugh’s House at Ampleforth College. Twenty years later he became the Procurator, or bursar, and then in 1979, at the age of 60, began his work on the parishes served by Ampleforth monks with a post as assistant in St Austin’s parish, Grassendale, Liverpool. He became parish priest there in 1980 and finally returned to Ampleforth in 1997 at the age of 78. For three years he was Sub-prior and once again became Infirmarian.

Fr Benedict’s funeral will be at Ampleforth Abbey on Wednesday 16 May at 11.30am, followed by burial in the vault in the Monks’ Wood.


John 15: 9 - 11
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.


St. Damien of Molokai
Feast: May 10

Feast Day: May 10
Born: January 3, 1840, Tremelo, Belgium
Died: April 15, 1889 (aged 49), Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii
Beatified: June 4, 1995, Rome by Pope John Paul II
October 11, 2009, Rome by Pope Benedict XVI
Major Shrine: shrine Leuven, Belgium (bodily relics), Maui, Hawaii (relics of his hand)
Patron of: People with leprosy, people with HIV and AIDS, outcasts, the State of Hawaii

Joan's Rome Special Edition
Follow Joan Lewis, EWTN's Rome Bureau Chief, as she blogs her trip to Hawaii to learn about St. Damien of Molokai, the leper and missionary priest. Later, she attends his Canonization on October 11, 2009.

In Search of a Saint: Day One of My Trip to Hawaii

Hawaii: The Story of a Teacher and Her Friend Damien

Hawaii: The Search for a Saint on the Island of Moloka'i

Hawaii: In Search of a Saint: The Prison that was Kalaupapa

In Search of a Saint: Following Damien to Kalawao

Damien and the Church of St. Philomena - Molokai's Maria Sullivan Talks of Damien and Kalaupapa on Vatican Insider

Aloha to Moloka's and Our Search for a Saint

Honolulu and Father Damien

St. Damien of Molokai: "A Noble Figure, An Authentic Servant of God"

The Universal Church Rejoices in Five New Saints - Hawaiians Fete Their "Own" St. Damien

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...."


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