Friday, September 26, 2008

Unconditional Love

Hi Everyone,
I want to talk about Unconditional Love today, in particular a Cause I have been passionately committed to: the canonization of the Belgian born priest, Father Damien. They called him the hero of Molokai because this incredible man was the only one who volunteered to service Molokai when death was almost certain. He defied the Vatican’s orders not to have direct physical contact with his flock and went to the Hawaiian island of Molokai, a leper colony in 1873 to serve the sick and dying. Single handedly. Hundreds of islanders were banished to this island during the terrible plague traced to a ship load of Chinese farm workers brought to the islands and causing widespread panic and disease.

I have been devoted, along with many others to the Cause of seeing this Blessed man declared a saint. Make no mistake. I’m not Catholic, nor has God whisper in my ear dictating this long and winding road, but I did have an encounter with Father Damien that I have never forgotten. Damien, thanks to the new Pope, Benedict XVI is on the road to Sainthood. At last. The spiritual patron for Hansen's Disease, HIV and AIDS patients and other ‘outcasts’ has finally been embraced by the Vatican, once embarrassed that Father Damien, in caring for what he deemed his Children, fell victim to leprosy (now called Hansen’s Disease) himself and died in agony of it at the age of 49. His story is remarkable. When he arrived on the lonely, isolated Kalaupapa peninsular, he was shocked to find so many sick and dying men, women and children, banished to the island with no food, shelter or any treatment for this hideous, progressive disease. Damien stopped the women from being raped, demanded food and medicine to be shipped to Molokai, built housing and a church for his children. He fed them, bathed them. Respected them. And he loved them. Utterly and unconditionally. He must have been a talented builder because every single structure he erected is still standing and in use, by the remaining two dozen patients who will by Hawaiian state law be allowed to live at Kalaupapa until their last breath.

Visitors are allowed to Molokai, but a permit is required and no more than 100 tourists can be on island at the same time. A few years ago, after the death of my grandmother, who raised me, I fell into a deep depression and during a long stay in Maui, found a compilation of oral histories from former patients at Molokai. Their stories were devastating. So many families were destroyed by the “Separating Sickness.” I felt increasingly compelled to visit Molokai and read everything I could on Father Damien. I became obsessed with the wonderful Australian movie, Molokai in which the extraordinary David Wenham portrayed Damien. Like many islanders, I became enraged when Father Damien’s steps toward Sainthood resulted in the Belgian government digging up his body from his grave in Kalaupapa. Long before he contracted Hansen’s Disease, he considered himself a leper. I felt in death, as in life he would want to sleep with his children and when the Belgian government bent under international pressure and returned his right hand to the people of Hawaii, I felt even more strongly about paying homage to the man I considered a true hero.

Coincidentally, I won a book on ebay called Margaret of Molokai and couldn’t wait to receive it. Then I got an email from a man on Molokai was devastated because I had beaten him out on the book auction. He had tried to win it for his mother, a still-living resident at Kalaupapa. I offered to give him the book as soon I had read it. I promised him I would read it quickly and send it to him immediately. He responded with a kind email saying I was the embodiment of the spirit of Aloha. This man and his wife and soon, his mother, started corresponding with me regularly and I ended up going to visit them. Anyone who has read my Phantom Lover series might be interested to know that Lopaka’s tutu [grandmother] is based on the woman who became my surrogate mother on Molokai. She took me on a tour of the hospital. I was shocked to see all the barriers still in place, as a sort of memorial and living museum where family members were allowed to come and visit their loved ones in the disease’s curable stage, thanks to new drugs.

We went to Damien’s church and we sat in a pew. I will never forget the sun shining on me, the dizzying scent of ginger stems washing over me. I looked at the floor as I thought about my grandmother and all the things I might have said to her given the chance to say goodbye. I saw all the holes in the floor. That, I hadn’t expected. “What are they?” I asked my friend. “Spit holes. In the latter stages of leprosy, the victims during Damien’s time, before there was a cure, could not swallow. Damien still wanted them to come to church and he put spit holes in the floor so they could still come to church and pray.” And then, a wondrous thing happened. I felt him. I really did. His beautiful, Holy ghost was in his House, and I, like all his other outcasts had just become one of Damien’s children. It was an indescribable feeling. It was a high feeling of pure love. “He’s here, you can feel him, can’t you?” my friend whispered and I just sat, stunned. Had I been alone, I know I would have dismissed that moment as a fantasy. That feeling has stayed with me for years now and I reach in for it, whenever I need it.

Recently, Pope Benedict declared the inexplicable healing of 80 year old Audrey Toguchi’s cancer as a Miracle. Her fatal illness miraculously disappeared after a long visit at Father Damien’s grave. He has pushed Damien’s case to the head of the line where he should be. Earlier this year, I went back to Molokai and took Father Damien a lei. I know it’s only his right hand there, but it still belongs to him. The hand that touched, nurtured, fed and held people terrified and feeling abandoned by their God. In Hawaii, Father Damien Day is celebrated on April 15. Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995, the Catholic Church commemorates Damien on May 10.
Known officially as “Blessed Damien of Molokai,” he will soon be known as Damien, hero, father…SAINT.
Aloha oe,
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Damien Sainthood Poses Dilemma for Leper Colony

In a state known for bustling, exciting tourist destinations such as Waikiki and the Kilauea volcano, Kalaupapa is sacred ground with a history of disease, suffering and isolation. Some 8,000 people have died on this remote peninsula since the Hawaiian Kingdom started exiling leprosy patients here in 1866. Many were torn from their families and left to scrounge for shelter, clothes and food. The vast majority were buried in unmarked graves.

Today, visitor interest in Kalaupapa, on the northern edge of Molokai island, is growing. And it will likely increase when the Vatican proclaims Father Damien — the 19th century priest who cared for the leprosy patients — a saint, most likely late next year. The two dozen patients still living here are eager to celebrate Kalaupapa's most famous resident, a selfless man who cared for leprosy patients when many others shunned them. They would welcome pilgrims at Damien's church and grave. But therein lies a dilemma. The patients and their supporters also don't want throngs of tourists disturbing the community's privacy and desecrating the land. "The priority is the patients. That's why we have to approach this very delicately," said state Sen. J. Kalani English. "Their privacy is paramount, their security is paramount, their dignity is paramount." Kalaupapa's attraction for tourists and pilgrims is heightened by the dramatic story behind the Vatican's recognition of a miracle attributed to Damien, who died in 1889 after contracting leprosy himself. It's this miracle that cleared the way for sainthood. Audrey Toguchi, an 80-year-old Catholic from the Honolulu suburb of Aiea, came to Kalaupapa 10 years ago to pray for help at Damien's grave after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Less than a year later, Toguchi's cancer disappeared. In July, Pope Benedict XVI ruled Damien had intervened because there was no scientific explanation for her recovery.

Kalaupapa is dramatically isolated, a peninsula cut off by 2,000-foot cliffs and surrounded by ocean. It can only be reached by small plane, mule ride or a 1- to 2-hour hike. Only 100 people live here, including the patients and care workers. The state Department of Health limits visitors to Kalaupapa at 100 per day, and each visitor must obtain a permit. On average, only about 25 make the trip. Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, which promotes Molokai tourism, expects more people will want to visit but isn't sure how many. The bureau has no plans to market tours after Damien is canonized but will give travel agents information about Kalaupapa. Lawmakers, state officials, and the National Park Service, which operates a historical park at Kalaupapa, all promise they won't allow the visitor cap to be raised without approval by from the remaining patients. Anwei Law, a historian who has been coming to Kalaupapa for almost 40 years, said visitors need to remember that Kalaupapa is not just another tourist attraction. "It's a sacred place because you've had so many people live there and die there," said Law. "It's a place where people had everything taken from them, but their response was not one of hatred."

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is spread by direct person-to-person contact, although it's not easily transmitted. It can cause skin lesions, mangle fingers and toes, and lead to blindness. But it's been curable since the development of sulfone drugs in the 1940s and people treated with drugs aren't contagious. Hawaii did away with the exile policy in 1969. Patients sent here before 1969 are free to leave, but many have chosen to stay because it's become their home. The state has promised to keep the settlement open and care for patients until the last one dies. The youngest is now 67. After that, the National Park Service will take over management of the peninsula.

The kingdom began strictly enforcing its isolation policy in 1873 — the year Damien arrived — sending hundreds of people to Kalaupapa even though there was no housing for them and no doctor to care for their sores. They were expected to build their own homes, grow their own food, and make their own clothes even though many of them were profoundly sick. When a resident doctor finally arrived in 1879, he wouldn't touch anybody and left medicine on a fence post. Damien, born in Belgium as Joseph de Veuster, stood out because he stayed and put no barriers between himself and the patients. He built homes, constructed a water system, and imported cattle. He had no medical training, but he did have a medical book and a bag, and he made rounds washing and bandaging patient's sores. He shared his pipe with patients and ate from the same bowl. Even before he contracted Hansen's disease, Damien began his sermons saying "We lepers." Damien was diagnosed with leprosy 12 years after he arrived at Kalaupapa and died four years later, at age 49. He's the only health care worker in Hawaii who ever contracted Hansen's.

Henry Nalaielua, 83, a patient who moved to Kalaupapa in 1941, said it would be "a glorious day" when Damien is canonized and would welcome pilgrims. "I know all of us hope that he does become a saint," said Nalaielua, a Catholic. "And that his church here will maybe become a shrine, instead of just Father Damien's church." Even so, patients and their supporters are firm in wanting to retain the 100-person-per-day limit, even if more people want to come seeking another Damien miracle. "You have to realize that the patients are still here," said patient Gloria Marks, 70. Law, the historian, said the limit on visitors should be maintained even after the last patient dies. "You really need to be able to feel the isolation of the place. If you're there with 500 people, you're no way going to feel the isolation that people had to go through," said Law. "You lose a lot of the lessons of history and the meaning."
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The strange case of Father Damien and Robert Louis Stevenson

The life of the famous Belgian missionary Father Damien (1840-1889) - "apostle of the lepers" - has been revisited in the current motion picture, 'Molokai'. Directed by Paul Cox, with David Wenham in the leading role and an all-star cast, the movie is a faithful representation of its subject. Less known, however, is the fact that the famous Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, a Presbyterian, was a strenuous defender of Father Damien in the face of unjustified criticisms. Father F. E. Burns, who provides the following account, is a retired priest of the Melbourne Archdiocese and a former Air Force chaplain.

When the bulky hand-delivered envelope arrived at the office of the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 February 1890 the editor was delighted. Clearly written on the back of the envelope were the sender's details which read "Robert Louis Stevenson, c/- The Union Club, Bligh Street, Sydney". The famous author, who was visiting Sydney, was much in demand in artistic and literary circles - the toast of the city. But when the editor read the article Stevenson had submitted for publication, the blood slowly drained from his face. For it was a most powerful defence of Fr Damien de Veuster, the leper priest who had died the previous April, and who had been the subject of a most bitter sectarian attack.

As a boy I had read the almost unbelievable story of Fr Damien. I had also read Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island, etc. It was later I came across Father Damien: An Open Letter to the Rev Dr Hyde which Stevenson offered first to the Sydney Morning Herald and which, on legal advice, it refused to publish. But American and British newspapers soon did, and Stevenson's Open Letter thundered across the Pacific, and across the literary world. Stevenson's outrage was sparked by the events following Fr Damien's death. His courageous life had been celebrated, even in the Australian secular press, prompting the Rev H. B. Gage of Sydney to write to Rev Dr Hyde of Honolulu for some details of the suddenly famous priest. Details he got. Hyde replied that Damien was "no saintly philanthropist"; rather he was "a coarse, dirty, headstrong bigot ... not a pure man in his relations with women", whose leprosy was "due to his vices and carelessness."

It is a sad fact that all denominations have their bigots. This was a bigoted age and, here, a case of bigotry at its mischief-making worst. Having obtained his "details" of Fr Damien, Rev Gage proceeded to have them published in the Sydney Presbyterian where, unfortunately for both Gage and Hyde, Stevenson read them. At first he could not believe what he was reading. Stevenson knew Hyde, and had been his guest when he lived in Honolulu. He had also, against his own doctor's advice - Stevenson had TB - visited Molokai shortly after Damien's death. He had been impressed by stories of Molokai and was keen to inquire further, though admitting to being "cynical about popular heroes."

His visit to Molokai lasted eight days, but Stevenson's awakening began even before he landed there. He travelled in a small boat with two religious sisters, "bidding farewell (in humble imitation of Damien) to the lights and joys of life." One of the nuns "wept silently and I could not withhold myself from joining her ... [A]s the boat drew nearer [we] beheld the stairs crowded with abominable deformations of our common manhood ... a population as only now and then surrounds us in the horror of a nightmare ... the butt-ends of human beings lying there almost unrecognisable but still breathing, still thinking, still remembering ... a pitiful place to visit, a hell to dwell in." But dwell in it he did. Stevenson became very friendly with the nuns and - to their despair - mixed freely with the lepers and played with the children. His sorry state of health made him doubly a candidate for infection, and Sr Marianne admonished him.

Robert Louis was a deeply spiritual man, honest to the point of bluntness, and above all a truth- seeker. What he saw at Molokai simply overwhelmed him. As a younger man he had often joked about the clergy of his own denomination in Glasgow saying that if they had appeared more as joyful bearers of the Word, and less like undertakers, he may have taken more notice. But Fr Damien's "hands on" Christianity, together with his robust faith and his acceptance of the news of his own leprosy "with a merry heart" was something different. Even though Stevenson was well aware of Damien's human failings - "he was no plastic saint." Yet the evidence of his goodness was undeniable and Stevenson, famous man of letters, graduate in both Law and Engineering, declared that the eight days on Fr Damien's Molokai changed his life. Before leaving the island, Stevenson presented the children's home with many gifts - a piano among them - and addressed a little poem to the Sisters:

To the Reverend Sister Marianne,

Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa.
To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain!
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.

The fact that people like listening to and passing on racy details about others (true or false) is indeed a fact of life and, if misrepresentations and lies are published, the truth must be restored. But in the case of Fr Damien, there was another factor. Perhaps Rev H.B. Gage was sincere, even if bigoted. But Dr Hyde's case was different. In 1885, Dr Hyde wrote of Fr Damien in the Hawaiian Gazette describing him as "that noble-hearted Catholic priest who went to Molokai in 1873 to care for the spiritual welfare of those of his faith, and whose work has been so successful." Why he turned from praise to slander in four years is unknown, but Hyde's letter to Gage was certainly not penned in ignorance, and the shuddering hypocrisy of his stance was too much for Stevenson. His wife reported that he locked himself in his room, muttering as he wrote.

Robert Louis Stevenson believed Damien was a saint and predicted that the Church would one day canonise him. He made plain in his letter to Dr Hyde that Hyde's own contribution would be used as "evidence against", and needed to be balanced by the truth - hence his "Open Letter." The reaction was predictable and powerful. Poor Hyde could do no better than to try to dismiss Robert Louis Stevenson as "a bohemian crank, a negligible person whose opinion is of no value to anyone." He had been particularly stung by Stevenson's closing words to him: "The man who did what Damien did is my father ... and the father of all who love goodness: and he was your father too, if God had given you the grace to see it." On his death Damien was laid to rest by and among his leper friends on Molokai. 46 years later his remains were transferred to his native Belgium. President Roosevelt provided a United States Navy ship to transport the casket, which was welcomed at Antwerp by the Cardinal Archbishop, King Leopold III and more than 100,000 people.

As for Stevenson, he died just a few years later in Samoa - but not before making a significant mark there. He bravely and effectively helped unite and represent the Samoans - underdogs as Damien's lepers were - in the struggle against colonial exploitation. And when he died, aged 44, his native friends buried their beloved "Great Story Teller" on the peak of Mt Vaea, "under a wide and starry sky", as he had requested. Fr Damien's life and work have become more well known lately through books and films. And both men have been honoured and commemorated by statues and plaques. But the greatest monument to them both - and the one that tells us much about each - is the beautiful, powerful and somewhat reckless defence of Damien penned in Sydney by Robert Louis Stevenson.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

China allows entry of leprosy patients ahead of Olympics

BEIJING, July 24 (Xinhua) — China lifted its ban on the entry of foreign leprosy sufferers on Wednesday, two weeks ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Leprosy sufferers and their relatives from other countries can enter China starting from July 20, according to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ). The decision came two months after the organizing committee of the Beijing Olympic Games revealed a guideline on June 2 that blacklisted anyone suffering leprosy, mental illness, a sexually transmitted disease, open pulmonary tuberculosis and those who may commit terrorist acts from coming into China during the Olympic Games from Aug. 8 to 24. “The reason we lifted the ban is that U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution on June 18 for the elimination of discrimination against leprosy sufferers,” an official with the Department of Supervision on Health Quaratine of GAQSIQ told Xinhua on Thursday. The official who refused to be named said the new rules would remain in force after the Olympics.

Leprosy is a chronic disease which can cause nerve damage, leading to muscle weakness and atrophy, and permanent disability. According to the World Health Organization, the disease is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth of untreated patients, but is not highly infectious. At the beginning of last year, 224,717 cases were recorded globally. China banned the entry of foreign sufferers of leprosy, mental illness, sexually transmitted disease, HIV, and open pulmonary tuberculosis in 1989.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Mozlink’ for any or all of the articles/images placed here. The placing of an article does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.