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Father Damien was canonized today. He is the patron saint of those with Hansen’s Disease (formerly known as leprosy) and of those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Below is what Wikipedia says about Saint Damien of Molokai.
Saint Damien of Molokai, (January 3, 1840 – April 15, 1889), formally Father Damien, born Jozef De Veuster, was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary religious order. He won recognition for his ministry to people with leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease), who had been placed under a government-sanctioned medical quarantine on the island of Molokai in the Kingdom of Hawaii. After sixteen years caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, he eventually contracted and died of the disease, and is widely considered a “martyr of charity“. He is the ninth person elevated to sainthood who had lived, worked, and died in the territory of the United States.
Below is a continuation of the Wikipedia entry dealing with a controversy that occurred soon after the death of Saint Damien. Reverend Hyde sent a letter to Reverend Gage saying some unkind things about Saint Damien. Robert Louis Stevenson visits Molokai about this time and responded to Reverend Hyde’s comments.
Upon his death, a global discussion arose as to the mysteries of Damien’s life and his work on the island of Molokai. Much criticism came out of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches in Hawaii. It has been argued[by whom?] that these church leaders took a stance against Damien largely because of their bias against Catholicism. The most well-known treatise against Damien was by a Honolulu Presbyterian, Reverend C. M. Hyde, in a letter dated 2 August 1889 to a fellow pastor, Reverend H. B. Gage; in it, Hyde referred to Father Damien as “a coarse, dirty man” whose leprosy should be attributed to his “carelessness”.
In 1889 Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Hawaii for an extended stay. Whilst there Stevenson, also a Presbyterian, drafted a famous open letter as a rebuttal in defense of Damien. The Catholic Encyclopedia judges that in this treatise “the memory of the Apostle of the Lepers is brilliantly vindicated”. Prior to writing his letter, dated February 25, 1890, Stevenson stayed in Molokai for eight days and seven nights, during which he kept a diary. In addition to calling Reverend Hyde a “crank,” Stevenson answered his criticisms point by point. He sought testimony from critical Protestants who knew the man, which he recorded in his diary. The treatise included some extracts, like the following which upbraided Rev. Hyde for his fault finding:
But, sir, when we have failed, and another has succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and succours the afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honour – the battle cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a lost battle, and lost for ever. One thing remained to you in your defeat – some rags of common honour; and these you have made haste to cast away.
And then Robert Louis Stevenson made his now famous prediction that came true today. The only reason we remember Reverend Hyde today is because of his derogatory comments to Rev. Gage about Saint Damien, not for any good works that he should have been doing toward his fellow man. Below is the final quote from Robert Louis Stevenson.
If that world at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage.
This story should help to remind us to not spend too much time belittling others and their efforts to help others, but rather spend more of our time trying to emulate their example.