The Leper Priest, the Hero
of Molokai. Born in Tremelo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840, he joined the Sacred Hearts Fathers in
1860. He was bom Joseph and received the name Damien in religious life. In 1864, he was sent to
Honolulu, Hawaii, where he Was ordained. For the next nine years he worked in missions on the big
island, Hawaii. In 1873, he went to the leper colony on Molokai, after volunteering for the
assignment. Damien cared for lepers of all ages, but was particularly concerned about the children
segregated in the colony. He announced he was a leper in 1885 and continued to build hospitals,
clinics, and churches, and some six hundred coffins. He died on April 15 , on Molokai. Slandered by
a Protestant minister, Mr. Hyde, Damien was defended by Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote an
impassioned defense of Damien in 1905. He was declared venerable in 1977. Pope John Paul II declared
him beatified on June 4, 1995.
On February 21, 2009, the Vatican announced that Father Damien would be
canonized. The ceremony took place in Rome on October 11, 2009, in the presence of King Albert II of
the Belgians and Queen Paola as well as the Belgian Prime Minister and several cabinet ministers,
completing the process of canonization.
"Not without fear and loathing," Pope Benedict underlined, "Father
Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there,
abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered. With them he felt at
home. The servant of the Word became a suffering servant, leper with the lepers, during the last
four years of his life."
He continued, "To follow Christ, Father Damian not only left his homeland, but has also
staked his health so he, as the word of Jesus announced in today's Gospel tells us, received eternal
of Father Damian, Benedict XVI added, "teaches us to choose the good fight not those that lead to
division, but those that gather us together in unity."
Damien's symbols are a tree and a dove. In
Saint Damien's role as the unofficial patron of those with HIV and AIDS, the world's only Roman
Catholic memorial chapel to those who have died of this disease, at the Église Saint-Pierre-Apôtre
in Montreal, Quebec, is consecrated to him.