Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Leper with the Lepers

During this Year of the Priest, I have taken advantage of opportunities to write about priests outstanding in their life and ministry whom the church has honored with canonization and/or beatification. On my recent trip to Belgium, I was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist at the tomb of one of these great men, Jozef de Veuster, who received the name of Damien in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Damien was canonized during this Year of the Priest by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009. Celebrating his canonization and visiting his tomb within less than four months prompted me to write about him and showcase his pastoral zeal as an inspiration for the rest of us during these early days of Lent.

In his homily at the Mass of canonization last October, Pope Benedict had this to say about St. Damien: “When he was 23 years old, in 1863, he left Flanders, the land of his birth, to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world in the Hawaiian Islands. His missionary activity, which gave him such joy, reached its peak in charity. Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who lived there, abandoned by all. Thus he was exposed to the disease from which they suffered. He felt at home with them. The servant of the Word consequently became a suffering servant, a leper with the lepers, for the last four years of his life.”

All good disciples of Jesus eventually come to the realization that the more self-serving their lives seem to become, the less can they consider themselves friends of Jesus Christ. Young Jozef was born in Belgium back in 1840, the seventh child of his family. His dad was a grain trader and wanted Jozef to take over the business on their farm. But Jozef’s dreams lay elsewhere. His older brother was a priest, and at age 18 St. Damien wanted to be a priest, too. He became a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, also described as the Picpus Fathers. He was sent off as a missionary. On the way he came down with typhus but eventually reached the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) in March of 1864. He became acquainted with the language and the customs of the Hawaiian people and was ordained a priest there in May of the same year.

Damien was no great scholar but he was truly a man of action. In embarking upon his mission to the Hawaiian people he initially regarded them as immoral, uncivilized and overly superstitious people. He traveled extensively in his efforts to convert many of them to Christianity and when asked where he lived, he would point to his horse’s saddle and say “That’s where I live.” St. Damien had a special concern for those who were experiencing great suffering. He was concerned about the mistreatment of the dead, the extensive drinking and gambling among the natives, the abuse of young orphans as well as the extreme prices in the shops. He also felt that lepers deserved better medical care. It was his dream that an ideal Christian community would eventually be established where he would be the father. His concern about the lepers continued to grow. He knew they lived in exile on the volcanic island of Molokai. He told the bishop he wanted to stay among them permanently because he thought this would be the only way he could win the lepers’ trust.
The leper colony was located at Kalawao on Molokai. This location was chosen deliberately because the village was very hard to reach. Because the lepers were placed in quarantine, the village was a kind of natural prison. When the quarantine laws were strengthened, St. Damien himself became an exile and a prisoner of his missionary calling. He was excluded from the outside world just like those whom he served. By January of 1885 Damien wrote, “I am still in good health… except my left foot, which has lost almost all sensation for three years now. It is a hidden poison which threatens my whole body.” He hoped he could get over his sickness or keep it under control, but more and more he would address his parishioners with these words, “We lepers.”

In concluding his reflections on the day of St. Damien’s canonization, Pope Benedict stated, “He invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brethren and still today call for the charity of our presence as servants, beyond that of our generosity.” Every Lent we are called to embrace the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and good works. Many Catholics are generous, but the example of priests like St. Damien challenges us to take to heart the words of our Holy Father which invite us to move beyond the “comfort zones” of our own practical generosity. Certainly we can place some limits on the sharing of our time, treasure and talents, but the season of Lent asks us to re-examine those limits and to see if it might be possible to extend them somewhat, even to the point where they are less than comfortable, maybe even where they hurt.

It was the miraculous healing of a Hawaiian woman with cancer that led to the canonization of St. Damien. He himself died of leprosy at the age of 49. The fame of his life lived among the lepers led to an intensive study of Hansen’s disease (leprosy), which eventually led to a cure. In speaking to the International Theological Commission last December, the Holy Father reminded this learned assembly that, in the history of the church, many men and women who may not have been so scholarly were, on the other hand, capable of the humility that led them to reach the truth about the great mysteries of our faith. He mentioned St. Damien and described him as one of those “little people who are also wise,” from whom we draw inspiration because “they were touched in the depths of their hearts.” Small people like Father Damien often become great saints.

The priests who serve you in our parishes across western Oregon typically attract headlines or prompt letters to the bishop only for their misdeeds, not for their faithful service. They may be “little people” in the eyes of the world, and perhaps in your eyes, too, but every time they touch the depths of any person’s heart, they become great in the eyes of God. As Damien was a leper among lepers, we priests today are sinners among sinners. Please pray for all of us this Lent that, in spite of ourselves, we too will always want to be there for others, not just for ourselves, confident in the mercy of a loving God.
By Archbishop John Vlazny
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.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fire Damages St Sophia Church on Molokai

Feb. 11th: Late Wednesday a fire broke out at St. Sophia Catholic church in Kaunakakai, charring the entire inside and much of the outside.

The fire alarm sounded at 10:42 p.m. Wednesday with all three Molokai engine companies responding. Engine 4 was first on the scene and was quickly followed by engines 9 and 12. It took about two hours to get the fire under control with mop up operations continuing through the night. Emergency crews shut down the town last night for safety. Yesterday morning fire crews could still be seen spraying water and foam in the smoldering ruins.

An investigator came in from Maui yesterday to help determine the cause of the fire. Molokai Fire Inspector Rick Schoneley began the preliminary investigation and took photos but no cause has yet been determined. While some speculated, including Father Clyde Guerrero, that the devotional candles may have set the blaze, this is still speculation at this time.

Father Clyde, pastor of the Saint Damien Parish, said that St. Sophia has held its last service. With the entire insides blackened it cannot be saved. Father Clyde said an insurance company inspector will come to Molokai Tuesday to determine the extent of the damage but he believes the building will most likely be demolished.

The church, built in 1937, has been in need of replacement for some time. Since 1995, the Molokai Catholic Community has been working to raise the $3 million needed to rebuild Saint Sophia as Blessed Damien Church in honor of Saint Damien who was canonized in October.

On January 5, the Maui County’s Urban Design Review Board recommended a special management area permit for approval by the Molokai Planning Commission.

The church serves about 300 families on Molokai. Other churches in the area have already offered their worship space to the Catholic community until a new church is built.
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.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


VATICAN CITY, 29 JAN 2010 ( VIS ) - The Message for the fifty-seventh World Day of Leprosy was published today. It bears the signature of Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry. The Day itself is due to be celebrated on Sunday 31 January.

According to the most recent data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), "in 2009, 210,000 new cases of the disease were recorded. ... The countries most affected are in Asia, South America and Africa . India has the greatest number of sufferers, followed by Brazil ".

Archbishop Zimowski makes a call "to the international community and to the authorities of each individual State, inviting them to develop and reinforce the strategies necessary to combat leprosy, making them more effective and far-reaching especially in places where the number of new cases remains high. This", he continues, "must be done without overlooking educational and awareness-raising campaigns capable of helping those affected, and their families, to emerge from isolation and obtain the necessary treatment".

At the end of his message, the president of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry expresses his thanks to the WHO, and to religious, missionaries, non-governmental associations and organisations, and many volunteers for their commitment "to eradicate this and other 'forgotten' diseases".
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, February 1, 2010

Pope: Charity is "the badge of a Christian"

Angelus, Benedict XVI invites prayers for peace in the Holy Land and thoughts for those who have lost their jobs in the economic crisis. World Day of Leprosy Suffers.
Vatican City
(AsiaNews) Jan 31st: - An invitation to join in prayer for peace in the Holy Land and some thoughts on how many are losing their jobs because of the economic crisis, in the words of Benedict XVI to twenty thousand people present in St Peter's Square, despite the rainy day, after the midday Angelus prayer, before the recital of which the pope spoke of charity, as "the badge of Christianity."

Taking a cue from the passage of St Paul in this Sunday’s liturgy, the so-called "hymn of charity”, the Pope stressed that "Paul shows us the 'path' to perfection. This - he says - does not consist in possessing exceptional qualities: speaking new languages, knowing all mysteries, having wonderful faith or carrying out heroic gestures. Rather it consists in charity - agape - that is in true love, what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Charity is the ‘greatest gift’, which gives value to everything else, but it 'does not boast, it is not swollen with pride,' indeed, it 'rejoices in the truth' and the good of others. Who really loves 'does not seek his own interests', he 'takes no account of evil received', he 'bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things' (cf. 1 Cor 13:4-7). Eventually, when we meet face to face with God, all the other gifts will be less; the only one that will remain forever is charity, because God is love and we shall be like Him, in perfect communion with Him. "

"For now - he continued - while we are in this world, charity is the badge of a Christian. It is the synthesis of his whole life for what he believes and what he does. For this reason, at the beginning of my pontificate, I wanted to dedicate my first Encyclical to the theme of love: Deus Caritas Est. As you recall, this encyclical is composed of two parts, which correspond to the two aspects of love: its meaning, and therefore its implementation. Love is the essence of God himself, it is the sense of creation and history, it is the light that gives goodness and beauty to every human existence. At the same time, love is, so to speak, the 'style' of God and he who believes, it is the behaviour of those who, responding to the love of God, lays down his own life as a gift of self to God and to neighbour. In Jesus Christ these two aspects form a perfect unity: He is Love Incarnate. This love is revealed to us fully in Christ crucified. "

Many themes were touched upon by Benedict XVI, after the Marian prayer. The Holy Land as well as those suffering from leprosy. "The last Sunday of January - he said - is the World Day of Leprosy Suffers. One thinks immediately of Father Damien de Veuster, who gave his life for these brothers and sisters, and who last October, I declared a saint. To his celestial protection I commend all the people who unfortunately are still suffering from this disease, as well as health workers and volunteers who devote themselves so there might be a world without leprosy. I greet in particular the Italian Association Amici di Raoul Follereau”.

"Today - he said then - it also celebrates the second day of intercession for peace in the Holy Land. In communion with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Custody of the Holy Land, I unite myself spiritually in prayer with the many Christians from all over the world, while I warmly greet those who are gathered here for this occasion. "A message of peace - added the Pope – is also brought to us by the boys and girls of Catholic Action Rome." Traditionally, they conclude the month of January with the "Peace Caravan" and the end of the audience two of them are invited to the Papal apartments from where they release two doves from the window, a symbol of peace.

A thought, finally, for those who are losing their jobs, with the statement that "this situation requires a great sense of responsibility on the part of all: employers, workers, governments".
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.