While Bishop Louis Désiré Maigret, vicar apostolic, believed that the lepers at the very least needed a priest to minister to their needs, he realized that this assignment could potentially be a death sentence, and thus did not want to send any one person “in the name of obedience”. [...] Father Damien was the first to volunteer and on May 10, 1873, Father Damien arrived at the secluded settlement at Kalaupapa, where Bishop Maigret presented him to the 816 lepers living there. [Father] Damien’s first course of action was to build a church and establish the Parish of Saint Philomena. [Go Saint Philomena!] His role was not limited to being a priest: he dressed ulcers, built homes and beds, built coffins and dug graves. Six months after his arrival at Kalawao he wrote his brother, Pamphile, in Europe:
…I make myself a leper
with the lepers
to gain all
to Jesus Christ.
[Father] Damien’s arrival is seen by some as a turning point for the community. Under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks became painted houses, working farms were organized and schools were erected. At his own request, and that of the lepers, Father Damien remained on Molokai (wikipedia, but see OK FSSP site here).
In the following picture, look at the eyes with which he beheld the lepers and the Most Blessed Sacrament, and hands that cared for the lepers and consecrated the Most Blessed Sacrament… Yikes!
Father Damien died 15 April 1889, at 49 years of age. I think it’s way, way cool that his feast day was NOT assigned to the day he died, but rather to 10 May, as that was the day in 1873 when he arrived at the leper coloney for the first time, the day, to the point, that he laid down his life for his fellow man. Imagine his priest’s heart! Yikes! and Yikes! again.
“The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, `Unclean, unclean’ (Leviticus 13,45 rsv).
Of course, there were those at the time who said that it was Father Damien’s own fault that he got leprosy, for he was dirty (digging graves!), wore torn clothes (giving the best to the lepers), and let the hair of his head hang loose (there was a sea breeze…). And since Father Damien wasn’t about to shout “Unclean! Unclean!”, his detractors did this for him, usually preachers making sure their flocks weren’t “taken in” by the charity of the Catholic priest. Sigh. Father Damien was never ever a social worker. He served Jesus in the most marginalized. It was Father Damien’s joy to be mistreated for the sake of Jesus.
I wonder if Father Damien frequently met with non-leper “lepers” who were mistakenly thought to have leprosy, or, for ulterior motives, were maliciously declared to have leposy, and were put in with other lepers on the boat to Molokai, and unceremoniously dumped on the beach as a kind of exorcism of evil from the “civilization” enjoyed by the other islands. I bet this was frequent enough. “Ooooh! Loooook! That one has a non-pigmented spot on his skin! He must be a leper!” with the one saying that knowing full well that it was only a scar from a fire that had broken out in a sugar-cane shed. No trial. Just banishment. And… and… a new job opening for non-lepers.
An analogy: Let’s take Father MacRae. Those who know anything ABOUT Father MacRae know of his innocence and, hopefully, the upcoming overturning of his conviction. But for some, he remains the poster boy of perpetrators of sexual abuse by clergy.
Not surprisingly, there are priests and bishops who will beat the drum of priestly solidarity — you know, in all niceness — but who will not only not say anything in favor of Father MacRae, but will brow beat into hell anyone who would mention his name. They stay away, distancing themselves: “It’s just that I don’t want to get leprosy too! I don’t want to take the heat of the media, and SNAP, and VOTF! I don’t! I don’t! I’m a coward! Toooooooooo weeeeeeaaaak!!!!”
- Father Damien about himself – “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
- Saint Paul about himself – “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9,22).
- Saint Paul about our Heavenly Father and Jesus — “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5,21).
- Cardinal Avery Dulles about Father Gordon MacRae – “Someday your story and that of your fellow sufferers will come to light and will be instrumental in a reform. Your writing, which is clear, eloquent, and spiritually sound will be a monument to your trials” (About).