1755) Father Damien

Father Damien (1840-1889), in 1873, before sailing for Hawaii


By Henri Daniel-Rops, The Heroes of God, (New York: Hawthorn, 1959). p. 194.

     Father Damien was distressed when he heard of the wretched condition of the people on the island of Molokai, a tiny island in the Hawaiian Island chain.  He was a priest from Belgium, who could have had a pleasant life ministering with his fellow priests among the carefree Hawaiian islanders.  But his heart went out to Molokai, and in 1873 he began to live on that I desolate, rocky, barren island, inhabited by the lepers who were banished from the other islands.

     He knew that the moment he set foot on land he would never be allowed to leave the island again.  The residents were dumbfounded by his sacrifice, and he was shocked by the deplorable conditions in which they were living.  He immediately challenged those who had given up hope to help him rebuild the old hospital and to reach out and minister to those who were worse off than they were.

     Before Father Damien had arrived on the island, the atmosphere was hostile.  No one cared for the lepers, so why should they care for each other?  When residents were gravely ill they were ignored, and when the person died, the body was thrown on the rubbish heap.  And sometimes the two procedures were mixed up.  One day when he was passing the dump, Father Damien saw some movement in a pile of rags, and then he heard a cry, a cry not unlike the lepers who called to Jesus, “Have pity on us.”  There in the rubbish was a man sent to his grave while he was yet alive.

     With Father Damien’s compassionate leadership, the residents developed medical programs, agricultural ventures, a sanitation policy, and set aside land for a burial ground.  But as benevolent as it was, the ministry was not without controversy.  When the Protestant leaders learned of what was happening—of the many converts and of church services being conducted—many of them were upset.  They sought to deport Father Damien, but he refused to leave.  He vowed he would stay with his people the rest of his life, although he did not realize, at the time that he was becoming one of them.

     One day in 1884, after a long, arduous horseback ride, he asked that water be heated so that he could soak his feet.  He tested the water and put his feet in, only to be told it was boiling hot.  He had not felt it, for his nerve endings were dead.  He too was a leper.  For the next four years he wasted away like those around him.  He lived to the very end with a heart of compassion for those like himself who were considered the refuse of the world.

Father Damien and the Molokai leper colony chapel

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Father Damien, age 49, on his deathbed


Mark 1:40-42  —  A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus was indignant.  He reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

Matthew 10:7-8  —  As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.”

Luke 10:11-14  —  Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.



Jesus, Master, have pity on us.

–Luke 17:13b