Soon To Be a Saint, Damien Continues To Inspire People Around the World
On my recent trip to Honolulu I was moved to visit to some historic sites related to Father Damien (Joseph Damien DeVeuster), who is scheduled to become a Saint in October of 2009. I have been very inspired by the good works of Father Damien, and so I decided I would devote the whole day to visiting sites related to his selfless service to the people of Hawaii.
I stayed in a wonderful Oahu condominium right in the heart of Honolulu so I could get a good night’s rest. That evening I read from Gavin Daws’ “Holy Man” book about Father Damien and prepared for the coming day.
The first place I went in the morning was to the Damien statue in Honolulu in front of the State Capitol Building. The statue was sculpted by Marisol Escobar of Venezuela in 1969 and depicts the priest in the throes of the Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) that ravaged his body. Escobar also sculpted another Damien statue that now resides in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.
It was way back in 1873 when the Belgian priest known as Father Damien first volunteered to minister to the needy at the Kalaupapa Hansen’s Disease (lepprosy) colony on Moloka‘i. He had become a member of the Missionary Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in 1864 at Honolulu’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace where he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.
In all, more than 8,000 disease patients were quarantined at Kalawao on Moloka‘i’s north-central coast on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. This began in 1865 when the first victims were sent to the remote area which is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean, and on the other side by steep cliffs that rise up to 3,000 feet.
Renowned for his ministering to these segregated victim’s of Hansen’s Disease at the Moloka‘i colony, Damien’s statue now faces Beretania Street and stands as a reminder of his good will toward others and his selflessness in helping the victim’s of Hansen’s Disease.
The Damien Museum is located in Waikīkī in a building that is behind St. Augustine’s Church on the corner of Kalākaua Ave. and Ohua Ave. The steep-roofed church is easy to spot along the Waikīkī waterfront, and is notable for its beautiful stained glass.
In the museum you can see historic photographs and artifacts related to Father Damien, and there is also a video presentation about the legendary priest. While this is just a very small museum, it is a very important place for anyone interested in Father Damien and his selfless work to help those in need.
Father Damien built Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church on Moloka‘i in 1874 on the site of the island’s first Christian mission. He died of leprosy on Molokai in 1889. He was exhumed on Molokai in 1936 and his body was sent to Belgium, though some of his hand bones were reinterred on Molokai.
Pope John Paul II beatified Father Damien on June 4, 1995 in Brussels, Belgium, bringing the priest one step closer to sainthood. Two miracles attributed to Father Damien were verified by The Holy See in April of 2008, and then on June 2, 2009 his sainthood was approved by The Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican, and then promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI on July 3, 2008.
The ceremony is scheduled to take place in Rome on October 11, 2009 when Damien will be canonized.
I am going to return to Honolulu next year and reflect on this wonderful man who gave his life to others, inspiring us all to continue to do good works to help others who are less fortunate.
Father Damien was a beloved hero of the people of Hawaii, and now the world – the spirit of the “Martyr of Moloka‘i” lives on.