Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St Damien's Day

Speaking of the saints, for just the second time, today sees the universal feast of Hawaii's own contribution to the heavenly host: St Damien of Molokai -- the Belgian-born "leper priest" who died among his isolated flock of the disease in 1889 (aged 49)... and, amid Rome's first mass experience of Aloha, was canonized in 2009.

Adopted as an unofficial patron of HIV/AIDS patients, one of the Aloha State's two contributions to Statuary Hall in the US Capitol, and his legacy likewise celebrated by the Episcopal church on these shores (which recalls him together with his New York-bred closest collaborator, and eventual successor, now Blessed Marianne Cope), the feast of the Hawaiian folk hero still known there as "Father Damien" isn't celebrated on the 15 April anniversary of his death, but today, the 138th anniversary of his arrival at the Kalaupapa leper colony where -- as one of his modern confreres put it -- the future saint would "give himself for his people."

Ergo, for the benefit of the wider church, here are the Breviary reading and prayer proper to today's celebration....
A reading from the Letters of Blessed Damien De Veuster ss.cc.

In August 1873, to his Superior General:
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 Savior. 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 goodnees 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.

November 25, 1873, to his brother, Fr. Pamphile:
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.

November 9, 1887, again to his brother:
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.
* * *
Father of mercy,
in Saint Damien you have given us a shining witness of love
for the poorest and most abandoned.
Grant that, by his intercession,
as faithful witnesses of the heart of your Son Jesus,
we too may be servants of the most needy and rejected.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.
That said, while the shop has its own particular ways of praying today's feast, in the most fitting tribute to its native context, live from a parish in Waikiki, let the liturgical hula break out....

Lest anyone forgot, it's a big church. And as ever, to all its saints in the making -- and, er, that's supposed to be every last one of us, gang -- aloha, mahalo, e buona festa a tutti.