Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Feast Day of Blessed Damien of Moloka'i

Today is the Feast Day of Blessed Damien of Moloka'i. He has special significance for my parents: when his bones were disinterred and transferred to Belgium, the coffin and its escort, who I believe was the Belgian Counsel or his representative, made a stop in San Francisco (no direct flights from Hawai'i to Europe in those days). The stop and Father Damien's story of selfless tending of the lepers on Moloka'i were big news and touched the hearts of my parents, both high school students at the time.

My father attended the Memorial Mass honoring Father Damien at St. Mary's Cathedral, along with his classmates at Sacred Heart High School.

Several years, and one World War, later, my parents met, married and had children. They also discovered they both were deeply moved by Father Damien's life. So Bro#2 was given Damien as a middle name.

Then, of course, came the novel and the movie "The Omen" and the name Damien came to mean something else all together.

I wanted to give DS#2 Damien as a middle name as well. Unfortunately, Hubs couldn't get past "The Omen," so DS#2's middle name is my maiden name instead. Ah well, there is always Confirmation.

One book that my parents read, and recommended to me when I became interested in Father Damien, is Damien, the Leper by John Farrow (Mia Farrow's father). Although the book was first published in 1954, it's still considered a classic. The fact that Mr. Farrow took a sabbatical from his filmmaking and directing career speaks volumes about the impact Father Damien's life had on people outside of the leper colony and Hawai'i. Mr. Farrow follows Joseph De Veuster from birth through boyhood to the priesthood where Joseph took the name "Damien" after St. Damian, an early Christian doctor. The selection was prescient.

Father Damien was assigned to the leper colony on Moloka'i and was to remain there only a short while. When the time came for him to be reassigned, he begged to stay with his flock. His superiors relented and Father Damien remained on Moloka'i for the rest of his life, contracting leprosy because he refused to remain aloof physically from his parishioners.

For most of his mission, Father Damien was alone. Eventually he was joined by another Father and by an order of Sisters (I can't remember which ones) to aid him, especially when his health began to fail. Interestingly, none of his associates contracted leprosy.

And now he is "Blessed" and has his own feast day. Another modern saint whose life is worthy of examination and emulation.