Jozef Damien De Veuster was born at Tremelo, Belgium, on 3 January 1840. He began his novitiate with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1859 and took the name Damien. He prayed each day before a picture of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, to be sent on a mission. In 1863 his brother, who was to leave for a mission in the Hawaiian Islands, fell ill. Since preparations for the voyage had already been made, Damien obtained permission to take his brother's place. He landed in Honolulu on 19 March 1864 and was ordained to the priesthood on the following 21 May.
During this peroid, the Hawaiian Government took the harsh measure of quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of leprosy. Those infected with what at the time was thought to be an incurable disease were deported to the neighbouring Island of Molokai. Four brothers volunteered for assignment there. Damien was the first to leave on 10 May 1873 for Kalaupapa.
At his own request and that of the lepers, he remained on Molokai. Having contracted leprosy himself, he died on 15 April 1889, at the age of 49, after serving 16 years among the lepers. He was buried in the local cemetery under the same Pandanus tree where he had first slept upon his arrival in Molokai.
His remains were exhumed in 1936 at the request of the Belgian Government and translated to a crypt of the Church of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts at Louvain. Damien is universally known for having freely shared the life of the lepers in quarantine on the Kalaupapa Peninsula of Molokai. Fr Damien is known today as a hero of charity because he identified so closely with the victims of leprosy. He respected the religious convictions of others; he accepted them as people and received with joy their collaboration and their help. With a heart wide open to the most abject and wretched, he showed no difference in his approach and in his care of the lepers. In his parish ministry or in his works of charity he found a place for everyone.
He continues to inspire thousands of believers and non-believers who wish to imitate him and to discover the source of his heroism. People of all creeds and all philosophical systems recognized in him the Servant of God which he always revealed himself to be, and respect his passion for the salvation of souls. Pope John Paul II beatified Damien de Veuster in Brussels on 4 June 1995.
PRAYER TO ST. DAMIEN
St. Damien, brother on the journey,
Happy and generous missionary,
teach us to give our lives
with a joy like yours,
to be in solidarity with the outcasts of the world,
to celebrate and contemplate the Eucharist
as the source of our committment.
Help us to love to the very end
and, in the strength of the Spirit,
to persevere in compassion
for the poor and forgotten
so that we might be
good disciples of Jesus and Mary.
SOURCE: USCCB website.
SOURCE: USCCB website.