St. Damien and the Year of the Priest — A leper with the lepers

“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…” 

Archbishop John Vlazny

A leper with the lepers

By Archbishop John Vlazny

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.

READ THE REST OF THE STORY: A leper with the lepers | Catholic Sentinel

END OF POST/PRAY FOR PRIESTS…

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