Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Father Damien of Molokai

A century ago Hawaiian blood froze at the very name "Molokai." Lepers waded through this surf to await death. - FROM THE DAMIEN MUSEUM, HONOLULU

As a boy, I heard leopard colony"
and dreamed of joining him for a glimpse
of the big cats with the terrifying skin.
At night, in bed, I'd whisper
"Da-mi-en of Mol-o-kai ... "
each syllable mysterious and transporting,
like "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Tarzan of the Apes."
Stark photographs revealed
the cats' appalling appetite for flesh,
the wounds that never healed,
the wasted, dying, brown-eyed
natives Damien had come to save.
He helped them by the thousands
through their final hours,
knowing his own would come,
a gorgeous head tearing cassock and collar,
limb from noble, careworn limb.

Sahib! Where the leopard walks,
he brushes out his tracks with his tail

My teacher brushed away a smile
at the symmetry of my mistake:
"Like Daniel in the Lion's Den?" she asked.
I thought of that, years later,
walking on the sand at Waikiki
the week they closed the Father Damien Museum,
which I'd stumbled on by accident,
while shopping for sunscreen, my white legs
slippery with coconut oil,
my mind on sunburn and melanoma
an unheroic, uncontagious man.
By then, I knew that both Bacillus leprae and Panthera pardus had survived the flood,
that Hawaii had no cats worth speaking of,
that god's work was stranger than it seemed.
I'd learned, as well, that most of us forgo
the swift drama of the muscled beast
that there are other ways to be destroyed.
I knew that you could walk
for years along the shores of Molokai
and not see what was eating you alive.
by Timothy McBride


No responsibility 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 15, 2011

The Recognition of Fr. Damien

On October 11, 2009, Fr. Damien of Molokai, the Leper Priest, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Basilica. He was a rough and ready man with a will of iron and a heart of gold. At the age Christ died, Damien began an unbroken ministry to the lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, a ministry carried on mostly alone, and one from which he would be released only by his death from the same disease sixteen years later in 1889. By that time, Fr. Damien, a Belgian Sacred Hearts missionary who began life as Jef De Veuster, had made his mark not only on the leper colony but, without even trying, on the late 19th century world, which was inspired by his single-hearted love much as the late 20th century world would be inspired by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But Fr. Damien’s immediate superiors were often less inspired than the rest of the world. Where much of the world saw single-minded devotion, his superiors often described Damien as short-sighted, attached to his own will, and insufficiently grateful for the work of others.
In the end, the Church decided that the shoe was really on the other foot. But because of some of these testimonies against him, it took a long time, nearly 90 years, for Damien’s virtue to be declared heroic so that he could be named Venerable. After that, Mother Teresa and the poorest of the poor around the world took up the cause, continuing to press Pope John Paul II until she was able to attend Damien’s beatification Mass in 1995. It may come as a surprise, but Mother Teresa felt she needed a saint of Damien’s mettle to inspire her Congregation to still greater service.
You can read about what made Damien great in Jan De Volder’s new biography, The Spirit of Father Damien, translated into English by John Steffen and published by Ignatius Press. The book not only provides all the necessary detail to fill in Damien’s life on Molokai and his relationships with his superiors, but it takes a clear look at Damien’s personality, both his weaknesses and his strengths, and ably charts the development of his spirituality from a youthful enthusiasm for missionary battle to a deep serenity which, by the end of his life, nothing could shake.
When examining the life of a leper, the outward flaws of the flesh force one to remember that, even for saints, the interior life also has flaws. A work in progress, holiness is a process as much as it is a fact. Over the centuries, different cultures have portrayed saints in different ways. In some periods, authors and their audiences have been captivated by the miraculous; in others it is the heroic virtue that inspires; in still others, there is a deep interest in the saint’s human side, his struggles, his failures and his triumphs. In a highly critical (and frequently dubious) age such as our own, there is a desire to see what a saint was like in the absence of grace (if that were possible). How much of his life can be explained by his human nature alone?
De Volder does not fall into the trap of attempting to isolate the supernatural, and he certainly has no desire to exclude it, but neither is he blind to the raw natural material. We see the cocky young Damien reminding his parents of their pious duties as if, should he fail to speak, those who had raised a strong Catholic family might not seek God. We notice that he delights far too much, or at least too openly, when his older brother Pamphile became too sick to go on the mission to Hawaii so that Damien was able to take his place. We see his impatience with superiors who, unlike Damien, had to juggle a far wider range of concerns than were represented by the leper colony on Molokai. We overhear conflicts with those assigned (occasionally!) to assist him, even if these conflicts were, in the main, not of Damien’s making. We observe Damien’s competition with rival missionary groups. We share his occasional complaints.
But it is precisely the single-minded devotion to their mission and to those in their charge which make saints so difficult to appreciate by those of us who are “more balanced”. De Volder paints for us a picture of Damien giving his life, wholeheartedly from the first, but still step by excruciating step, to those exiled to Molokai, torn away by force from their friends and family in order to prevent the spread of the dread disease. We see Damien taking great care to protect visitors from contagion while he himself ate from the same pot and shared his pipe with the living dead. We see him administering the sacraments, catechizing and converting, burying the dead (often more than one per day), taking in orphans, driving out dissipation, building homes and churches, attempting new medical treatments, organizing his people and offering both purpose and hope.
We also see him maintaining a life of rigorous prayer, several hours in each day when he would do his best to avoid being disturbed, precisely so he could grow spiritually, retain his resolve, and succeed in doing good for the rest of the day, always suspicious of his own weakness, always insistent on drawing strength from the Eucharistic Christ. And we see him physically isolated, painfully alone, longing for a confrere as his Order’s rule required, often having no one to confess to, almost never visited by his squeamish superiors, frequently misunderstood, and isolated spiritually too, accused of pride and vainglory because he insisted again and again on his lepers’ need of more and better help.
For my tastes, at least, Jan De Volder strikes just the right balance. Damien emerges as a man I can appreciate, because he was a man, yet one I can imitate, because he was a saint. And to return to his superiors one last time, De Volder also gives us a lucid account of the efforts to raise Damien to the altars, the difficulty of overcoming their negative testimonies, and the way in which it was ultimately proved beyond reasonable doubt that the fault was more on their side than on Damien’s. This opens a window not only into the life of a great saint, but into the vagaries of a saint’s cause. It is a reminder that holiness must endure even when recognition is lacking, but that in the Church’s own time and God’s—and not for the saint’s own sake but for ours—recognition too may come.
By Dr. Jeff Mirus
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 8, 2011

Riding Muleback to a Forbidden Village: Kalaupapa’s Leper Colony

It was probably one of the most difficult ventures I’d ever undertaken, riding a mule down a 1700-vertical foot, 26-switchback trail to the formerly forbidden village of Kalaupapa on the Island of Molokai, Hawaii.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park’s mission is to preserve the memories and experiences of the past in order that valuable lessons might be learned from them. Since no roads connect Kalaupapa with the rest of Molokai, the village can be approached only by flying in, hiking, or by mule. Visitors must come with a designated group, so arrangements must be made in advance.
When I was a high school junior, I wrote a report on leprosy, more properly called Hansen’s Disease, and learned about Father Damien. Elevated by the Catholic Church in October, 2009 to Saint Damien of Molokai, he dedicated his life to those who suffered that most terrible disease, leprosy. Since writing my school report, Father Damien and the leper colony has held great fascination for me.
By Mary E. Trimble

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. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ground broken for Kaunakakai’s long-awaited church

St. Damien parishioners throw flowers into the ditch holding sacred objects from the old St. Sophia Church.

About 300 people gathered beneath a cloudless blue sky at the grass-covered empty lot at 115 Ala Malama Street in Kaunakakai to watch a long-held dream emerge into reality.  The Molokai parish of St. Damien officially broke ground for its new church, also to be called St. Damien when it is completed near the end of this year.  After more than 15 years of wishing and planning and fundraising and designing and negotiating, the black fabric construction fence screens were up, the heavy equipment parked in the back and the building permit prominently posted.  The contractor was there, and the architect, the pastor, the parish building committee, civic leaders, the bishop, and an assortment of happy parishioners, neighbors and friends.

At 9:29 a.m. the old church bell tolled and Stephen Petro, chairman of the parish building committee, introduced the formalities and Bishop Larry Silva.  “It is a joy and a privilege to be here with you,” said the bishop who had arrived that morning on the 8:15 flight. “Let us pray that God will bring this construction to successful completion and keep the workers safe from injury.”  “We plant a seed today that will grow not just a building, but a living church to be touched by Christ’s love for generations to come,” he said.

Sister Helene Wood, speaking on behalf of her Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, said it was “a historic day, because of the spirit and long standing faith of the people.”  Maui County councilman Danny Mateo, who represents Molokai, made reference to the fire that destroyed the old church, St. Sophia, that the new one is replacing.  “From the ashes came dreams, from the ashes came hope, from the ashes came life, a new determination to build,” he said.

It was then the architect’s turn to speak.  “What a great day!” said Frank Skowronski of Haiku, Maui. “We celebrate the transition from designing, dreaming and hoping to building.”  “Things will move quickly now,” he said.  Glen Kaneshige, executive vice president of Nordic PCL, the Oahu construction company that will build the church, thanked the “island of Molokai … for making us feel welcome.”  “It’s been 40 years since we’ve been back here,” he said. “Every project is special to us.”

Assisted by Sacred Hearts congregational candidate Jeremy Sabugo, Bishop Silva then walked around the 16,000 foot lot, his red cope catching the breeze, sprinkling a blessing of holy water.  Roughly near the center of the plot was a trough about eight-feet long, three-feet wide and three-feet deep, dug out earlier by a backhoe.  The pastor Father Clyde Guerreiro explained that the hole, located where the future altar will stand, would be the burial site for sacred objects from St. Sophia, burned beyond use in the fire 12 months earlier.

The first item to be laid on the dirt was the old church’s charred five-foot high crucifix, followed by the Stations of the Cross, carried to the opening in the ground by a slow procession of parishioners.  Parish representatives and construction personnel then grabbed 10 red-handled, gold-bladed shovels and sent spade-loads of dirt into the ditch.  Finally, everyone was invited to grab handfuls of flowers to throw into the hole and the ceremonies were over. The event wrapped up with bento lunches for everyone.

Rose Brito, St. Damien Parish’s administrative assistant who moved to the island in 1945, said the groundbreaking made her feel “very, very jubilant.”  “We worked so hard and for so long for this day,” she said. “I am very excited. I can’t wait.”

The new church is being built where St. Sophia had stood for 73 years, near the beginning of Kaunakakai town’s main drag, between the C. Pascua Store and the Molokai Community Credit Union, across from the U.S. Post Office and the G&M Variety Store and the Friendly Market Center. On the church site is the Damien Center, the former Stanley’s Coffee Shop, now used as the parish office and daily Mass chapel.

Skowronski, of Territorial Architects, said the new church will be made of concrete, which is available on the island, is low maintenance and will make the building cooler.  The construction style will be “tilt up concrete,” where the walls are poured horizontally on location and pulled up to their vertical positions. According to Nordic Construction project manager John Baranski, the process saves a significant amount of time and money.  Skowronski said the church’s interior will be “semi in the round,” “intimate,” “not a basilica.”  The inside has been designed so that sound will carry naturally, he said. No seat will be more than seven rows from the altar.  It will hold 240 people, about 100 more than the church it is replacing. A series of doors in the back can open up to accommodate an overflow of 100 people under cover.  Large windows and louvers will take advantage of the trade winds, Skowronski said, eliminating the need for air conditioning.

When complete, the church will not have ornamentation or stained glass windows, the architect said. “It will be a shell, functioning, legal, in still skeletal form, a very utilitarian building.”  But it will have built-in the potential for artistic enhancement and adornment as the parish grows, he said.  The design “reflects the new liturgy, not replicating the past,” said Skowronski, a Catholic who helped with the design of St. Theresa Church in Kihei, Maui. The ideas for the Molokai church come from the parish building committee, he said.  “The design is mostly theirs,” he said. “We were here to make it work, to make it stand up, to adhere to the budget, to make it happen.”

The church will cost more than $3 million to build. Nordic is an Oahu-based 70-year-old local company. The on-site project engineer is Danyelle Kahanaoi who is from Molokai. Baranski said the company will use as many Molokai workers as possible, though some specialized expertise will have to come in from Oahu and Maui.

The Kaunakakai Church will be the main church of the St. Damien Parish, which encompasses all of topside Molokai. The parish has three other churches — St. Vincent Ferrer in Maunaloa on the west side, and on the east side, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Kaluaaha and St. Joseph in Kamalo. Masses are no longer celebrated in the tiny Kamalo church.
By Patrick Downes | Hawaii Catholic Herald
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.