“Damien simply loved them
as souls redeemed by Christ
and was prepared to do anything for them.”
Butler’s Lives of the Saints: New Concise Edition
On May 10, 1873, Father Damien de Veuster landed on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. He was scheduled to be there three months every year, being relieved by three other priests. However, after a short time there, he asked the bishop to allow him to do his ministry there full-time.
Molokai was the place where lepers, those with Hansens disease, were sent to die. Father Damien came upon a horridsituation. The lepers were abandoned. There was a hospital but the care was minimal. There was no work. At times, lepers were cast off the ships and had to find their way onto the beach through the surf.
Father Damien found a situation where drinking and promiscuous sex were rampant, where the dead were not always buried, and where life was not valued.
He founded a funeral society to bury the dead; he managed to have the government expand the health care; he began projects.
But what was essential is that he “simply loved them.”
That was probably not easy. People like Dorothy Day who work directly with the poor know that. The poor are not always saints – nor are they always sinners. They are not always easy to live with or work with.
There are the people always looking for a handout. There are the people who call incessantly over a project. There are the people who do not follow up on commitments. There are the people who are dictators in their communities. There are those who drink too much.
The response has to be love.
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams,” wrote Dostoevsky.
But love is our salvation. A God who is Love came onto our Molokais, finding us in horrid situations. And He loved us.
And He calls us to love.