Friday, May 10, 2013

The Heroes of Molokai

Finally together again in the roll of the saints as they worked alongside each other in life, this Friday brings the feast of the first minister of Hawaii's Molokai leper colony to be canonized, St Damien de Veuster.

Just three years after his 2009 raising to the altars, the Belgian-born cleric was joined last October by his longtime collaborator, now St Marianne Cope, who succeeded Fr Damien as the colony's guide following his death at 49 in 1889 after contracting the disease.

Having attained the requisite "national cultus" to be added to the US calendar just prior to her canonization, the New York-bred Mother Marianne's feast is now celebrated beyond Hawaii on 23 January.

Honored in today's church as an unofficial patron for both HIV/AIDS sufferers and the marginalized in general, Damien – and Marianne with him – continues to be revered as a hero in the islands; a statue of the priest stands outside the capitol in Honolulu, and a copy of it is one of the two "representatives" of Hawaii that (alongside two outstanding figures from every other state) occupy a place in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol in Washington. (Notably, he's just one of several other missionaries who symbolize their states in the hall – the Jesuit Eusebio Kino is there from Arizona, the Franciscan Blessed Junipero Serra from California, and the Sister of Providence Mother Joseph for Washington State.)

As the Breviary reading for today's feast isn't included in the editions of the Office in print – at least, for now – here's the proper text for the day, a mash-up from Damien's letters to his provincial and his brother....
Divine Providence, having compassion on the unfortunate, has thought fit to look upon your unworthy servant to care for the spiritual needs of a well-known leprosy hospital that our Government had to establish to preserve the whole archipelago from disease. Thus, it is in my role as pastor of an unusual parish of eight hundred lepers, nearly half of whom are now Catholics, that I take the liberty to write to you these lines.
Here I am in the midst of my dear lepers. They are so frightful to see, it is true, but they have souls redeemed at the price of the Precious Blood of our Divine Saviour. He also in his divine charity consoled lepers. If I can not cure them as he did, at least I can console them and by the holy ministry which in his goodness he has entrusted to me, I hope that many among them, purified from the leprosy of the soul, will present themselves before his tribunal prepared to enter the communion of the blessed.

My chapel, which was too big the first weeks I was here, has now become too small. Three weeks in a row I have had to ask some of the older Christians to stand outside along the windows in order to give their places to the new-comers or to the fallen away who have returned or to the catechumens of whom there are always some.
Besides Sunday, there are a good number who come regularly to Mass and evening rosary everyday of the week. A good number receive communion every Sunday. Besides the consolations that the heart of a priest finds in the church, there is also much good to do by visiting homes, going from one hut to another, almost all of them filled with poor unfortunates who can hardly drag themselves around as often their hands and feet have been eaten away by this horrible disease. They are condemned to breathe foul air. Ordinarily they listen with great attention to the word of salvation which I share with each one according to their disposition.

Even though I am not a leper, I make myself a leper with the lepers; when I preach, I always use the expression, "We, lepers". Thus may I gain all for Christ as St. Paul.

As you know, it has been already quite a while that Divine Providence chose me to become a victim of this repugnant disease of ours. I hope to remain eternally grateful for this grace. It seems to me that this disease will shorten and narrow the way that will lead me to our dear homeland. In that hope accepted this disease as my particular cross; I try to bear it as did Simon of Cyrene, following in the footsteps of our Divine Master. Please assist me with your good prayers, so as to obtain for me the strength of perseverance, until I reach the summit of Calvary.

R/. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. To lay down one's life for one's friends. That is the fruit of true love.
V/. I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. To lay down one's life for one’s friends.
...and in the spirit of aloha, we'd be remiss to leave out a taste of the liturgical hula that's graced Rome twice in the last four years, the halau shown below before the cathedra of the city's bishop in St John Lateran:

Especially to dear Linda and all the crew back in the islands, aloha, mahalo... and, of course, buona festa.