"I find myself to be the happiest missionary in the world..." -St. Damien of Molokai
Okay, so obviously he's on the list of my favorite saints (which, btw, is pretty long...;) ) So...I'm warning you now, this is one loooonnng post!! So I've decided to do 2 parts for this post.
Alright... I know some of my readers would be thinking something like: "Huh? Who's that guy again...?" and "How in the world could he feel like he's the happiest missionary in the world when he's like that?!..."
Weelll, he's not exactly one of those saints who was humble for a second, and some people immediately started adoring him for that, and there's all the fireworks going off after he went to heaven and stuff like that... Uh no, he wasn't like that at all. In a way, maybe.
If you've never been to Hawaii before, and never know what it's like, then you can read the next few paragraphs that might just help. :)
The rest of you, (if you know what exactly Hawaii is like and/or if you live here you can skip it :P :) )
First of all, even if there was fireworks and all that, I doubt anyone would be able to see it explode when it's in Hawaii. If you look on the map, Hawaii is just a bunch of little dots in a um, roundish line (kinda like those candy dot thingys :P :) )... IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Seriously! Have you ever tried to google earth it? It's smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
(I remember always thinking that the island I live on is big, but on the plane ride to Boston, the words 'It's a small island after all' was just singing in my mind :P )
And no, it's not a deserted island where there's only two grocery stores and everywhere there's palm trees :) We actually have...4? I think? Costcos here.
Anyway, let's get back on track to when BEFORE Costco ever came. The thing is, I live on the island where the most population is and near the capital. So you get the idea and the image of all the tourists. :)
And of course, if you've looked up Hawaii on the map, there isn't just one island. Uh.. there's.....................ok, I admit it! I forget how many there are so I'm looking it up right now on Wikipedia :P During this intermission (lol) I thought it would be interesting to know that if you ever use Wikipedia, the word 'wiki' is actually a Hawaiian word meaning 'quick'.
Ok, got it! There's eight 'main islands'. You have the mainland, and we have the main islands. :P Here are their names (from left to right, if you have the map): Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui, and Hawaiʻi. Don't bother trying to say them all at once if you can't (it's quite a tongue twister if you don't know how! :) ). Yep, if you noticed Hawai'i is called Hawai'i which is a apart of Hawaii itself, then yeah... It's confusing, but we islanders just call it the Big Island. As you have guessed, it's the biggest island. That's where the active volcano is. The rest of the HI islands don't have active volcanos. Ni'ihau isn't exactly a 'public' island either...which means it's not someplace where anyone can just vacation to (ever watched that episode of 'Lilo & Stitch where they say that Ni'ihau is a cursed island or something? ;) )
...OK, moving on.
Now, Molokai is the one you should imagine as deserted. Not COMPLETELY deserted, but deserted enough. Back then in St. Damien's day (19th century) whoever had leprosy in Hawaii, was banished to the island of Molokai. It served as a prison to those who were unfortunately struck with the worse illness of all. I'm pretty sure you know about leprosy, so I'm not going to explain it... just that it's a pretty old disease that it was even in the Bible days as well. It was pretty bad. Everyone who was suspected of having the slightest bit of leprosy or did have it, was torn away from their beloved family, friends, and homes. Everyone, as in EVERYONE. You name it; men, young women, and even children. Some families in Hawaii would hide any loved one who had leprosy, and guard the place with a gun, threatening to shoot anyone who would dare to arrest him/her to take to the horrible prison of Molokai. Being arrested and sent there was practically the worst death sentence you could ever think of. In fact, they'd rather have death itself than to be sent there.
Now, don't go thinking 'wow, ok, so they practically had the island all to themselves...so no big deal, right? Just stay in the corner and pretend to be a hermit or something.' ...Sorry, no. :( It was worse than that. They didn't have the entire island to themselves, not even half or 1/4.
Here's a map of the island to get a better picture of it.
Okay, you see that little bump on the top of the island? That's where the leper colony was. Just that teeny-tiny piece of land. It's only three miles across, if I'm not mistaken. I don't have a better picture of it with me, but the lower part of it is cliffs. You can't really get out. The high mountains and cliffs serve as prison walls, and the only other place you can go to is the ocean. Rumors told that if you climb to the top of the steep cliffs you'd get shot. The lepers would rather face death then suffering. And there were more than just dozens of lepers there. Not all of them were well enough to walk around or play around either. Some of them just lay on mats on the ground, or in shacks made from the trees, or just by the ocean, just wanting to die already from everything they're suffering from. Others who were well enough to walk...were not so in a good place either. Yes, they were suffering, but think, any man, woman, or child who had leprosy was there. Some guys ran around hurting children and woman since there was nothing to do. Why shouldn't do these things anyway? Nobody cared about them. There was a motto of the leper colony: "Aole kanawai me keia wahi." Meaning, "In this place there is no law." Anyone could do anything. No one would stop them; the police can't do anything. The gun wasn't the worst fear, it was the disease. They'd gladly die than go through the effects of the disease. ...And the terrible thing was, the people could only see a priest once a year.
Once a year is clearly not enough to have Mass, confession, funerals, and all that, so that's where St. Damien comes in.
Think... Fr. Damien (Joseph de Veuster), was born and raised in Belgium (and if you look that up, it's practically on the other side of the world from Hawaii). He spoke Dutch (or was it Flemish?). Half of his sibings responded to God's calling (priesthood & religious life), and when it was his turn, there was the usual problem of him supposed to be inheriting the farm and his dad's job, and things like that. But after some time, he did enter the seminary (Sacred Hearts).
Hmm... yes, he did go off in the middle of the woods and pretend to be a hermit/saint, give his food to the bullies (& willingly, too), love hearing saint stories, and did his best to work at home, but... he wasn't exactly the top student at the seminary. If it wasn't for his older brother who helped him with his schoowork, then... And he wasn't very famous in Belgium either. He was 'just another seminarian trying to get through his studies'... He had a temper, but good thing God gave that to him otherwise I'm not sure how he could've survived in Moloka'i! He struggled with Latin, but with the grace of God, he was able to get through, barely.
Anyway, so the Sacred Hearts community hears about this news about the islands which is on the other side of the world. No, the superiors didn't pick young seminarian Joseph, but rather, his older brother. The future Fr. Damien wasn't ordained a priest at that time. ...Well, the thing is, his brother got sick with this terrible plague that was going through the area. Too weak to go, he was beginning to worry about his missionary trip to Hawaii. With a voluntary spirit, young seminarian Joseph asked to go take his place. There was a "...What?!" from his superiors. Joseph wasn't ordained yet. In fact, he was struggling with his Latin! They give a straight NO. But Joseph didn't give up. On fire with the holy zeal to work for Christ, he kept asking for this opportunity to go and live out this missionary life.
I always like to think about it in this way...lol, I'm not sure if this really was the case, but still... It's like Fr. Damien was avoiding his homework that he wanted to go halfway around the world to escape it's clutches or something :P
Anyway, of course in the end Joseph de Veuster got his way. ....Now, you can imagine the shock he got from his parents...Will they ever see their beloved son again...? But Joseph would carry his parents in his heart. He would bring their love with him to this, and share the fatherly love to the people of Hawaii...in whoever he would meet.
Off he went to an unknown place, leaving his beloved mother, father, sibs, and home behind...
Now, if it were me, I'd be sick in the stomach at this decision. I wonder how he got the courage to volunteer himself and say, "I wanna go!!" to an unknown place and situation where he may never see his family again. Sometimes it goes that way too...we can't just sit around and wait for that call we imagine (the angels start blowin' their trumpets and you hear God's voice loud and clear... stuff like that) We need to jump and say "Take me! Take me!" Fr. Damien had that voluntary spirit, an excelent example for today's world. Hm...:) Because of Fr. Damien's example, if God's ever calling me to do something like that, I'd still probably be sick in the stomach... but instead of trembling with fear & worry, I'd be trembling with excitement 'cause God comes along with me!
So there he goes... taking not days, but weeks to get here to Hawaii. Storms came and went as the boat remained focused on gettin' to these islands in the middle of nowhere... I wonder if they got super seasick or anything...
But yes, with God's might protection, they got to Hawaii safely, after a tiring journey. They arrived at the island of Hawaii of O'ahu, in Honolulu. Here's a map so you don't have to check again...unless you have a better one.
Yes...as you might've guessed the one with the most population is O'ahu, and 'south-ish' red part is Honolulu. That's where the Cathedral where Fr. Damien was ordained. But it obviously wasn't this populated around his time.
Ever so joyfully, he was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, which is just a few blocks away from the sea. He was ordained in a strange place, a place where none of his family was, yet he was completely satisfied and delighted because there and everywhere he went to was where God was.
Now... you might think 'and here comes the part where he aids the lepers' ...right? No...he actually spent about 6 years in a parish in the Big island (the big island on the right). There, he prepared for the greatest challenge that God had planned for him... Moloka'i.
Like I said earlier, being sent to Molokai was the worst death sentence - worst than death itself. The Bishop took notice of the terrible circumstances there, so he decided to do something about it. Back in Honolulu, the Bishop and another priest gathered Fr. Damien and his Sacred Hearts community and talked to them about what was going on in Moloka'i. Now, the original plan was to pick five (or three?) priests to send to Moloka'i to take turns to aid the people for three (or five) months. And yes, again, Fr. Damien, with that volutary spirit of his, offered to go. Fr. Damien was the one chosen to establish a parish among the lepers.
Before leaving, the Bishop gave direct orders to Fr. Damien..."DON'T TOUCH THE LEPERS." They knew that if they did, they would surely catch the disease and be just as miserable as the rest of them. :(
So off Fr. Damien went, from Honolulu to Moloka'i by boat. He was shocked by how the people needed help... people where dying everywhere... A little girl came up to him one time and said she was so afraid of the wild pigs eating her body after she died. There was so much work to do. The church wasn't exactly all set up for him.
I love this part in the movie about him... when a young boy asks if he could be his altarserver, and Fr. Damien decides to shake the boy's hand. The boy gives him a '...What??' look but smiles as they shake hands.
...And so begins his mission :)
I'll post up a part 2 sometime... this time about what he did, and where Joseph Dutton & Mother Marianne comes in... ;)
PS~ On Nov 1st, All Saints' day, there will be a relic procession of St. Damien after the 12noon Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu. I am sooo excited about this! :D Hawaii will finally have a saint and an actual relic... Parts of the Cathedral have already been renovated, but I can't wait to see the result! I PROMISE I will post a pic of it as soon as possible!! (whenever possible comes... :P :)