Friday, August 21, 2009

Damien’s work continues in India

Question: If Father Damien were alive today, where would he be?
Answer: Perhaps in India, where Hansen’s disease has stubbornly stepped into the 21st century despite the drugs that should have halted it decades ago.

The saint-to-be actually does reside in spirit in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar at the Damien Social Development Institute. There leprosy and its savage effects are combated with standing and mobile medical clinics, rehabilitation programs, nutrition programs, housing projects, vocational training and education. The institute’s stated vision is “To eliminate human sufferings in order to revive and enhance the spirit of equality and dignity.” It also participates in the worldwide campaign to eliminate Hansen’s disease.

The institute was opened as the “Damien Institute” in 1979 by Sacred Hearts Father William Petrie, an American whose priestly vocation was inspired by a biography of Father Damien he read as a boy. Father Petrie came to India in 1975 to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at a Hansen’s disease facility in Shantinagar, west of Bengal. Mother Teresa asked the priest to turn his attention to those with the disease, particularly the impoverished, in Bhubaneswar where he started his program.

The Damien Clinic, the institute’s main medical clinic, treats hundreds with a team of doctors, a pharmacist, a lab technician and others. Mobile clinics two or three times a month bring services to a number of leprosy communities and houses, and to dozens of slum areas. Rehabilitation programs deliver wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids, and walking sticks for the blind to those that need them in surrounding villages. A nutrition program provides school children in one leprosy community, many whose parents provide for their families by begging, one balanced, nutritious meal a day.

The Damien Social Development Institute helps young men and women gain vocational training as tailors, mechanics, paramedicals, drivers, weavers and electricians and also runs an interfaith hostel which provides food and board for male students attending a local college. The institute is a project of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, Father Damien’s congregation, and many of its department supervisors are priests of that order.
By Patrick Downes Hawaii Catholic Herald
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