Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Love overcomes fear of disease and death

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
Matthew 8:3

A terrible outbreak of leprosy occurred in 19th Century Hawaii. This disfiguring disease created fear throughout the islands. It's cause was unknown and it was believed to be highly contagious. The police would forcibly remove infected individuals to be quarantined on the isolated peninsula of Molokai. Family members were not allowed to visit and contact with the outside world was limited.

The lepers were expected to fend for themselves. The government provided meager rations and one set of clothes per year. The strong would prey on the weak and, with no hope, many would spend their days in drunken debauchery. The dying would be abandoned to die alone without comfort.

Damien de Veuster was a Roman Catholic missionary priest from Belgium who volunteered to take the gospel to the Hawaiian Islands. When he learned about the lepers of Molokai, he volunteered to move to the colony and minister to the patients' physical and spiritual needs.

Although warned to avoid physical contact, Damien would touch and embrace the lepers, demonstrating love and acceptance. Perhaps, he remembered Matthew 8:3, where Jesus touched and healed a leper. He lead worship, changed their bandages, planted vegetable gardens and built houses and other buildings. He would comfort the dying, dig the graves and build the coffins. His energy and determination brought hope that resulted in the patients becoming his allies in the transformation of their colony.

He tirelessly championed the cause of the people under his care. He would not let them be neglected by government or church authorities. He ensured the dignity and humane treatment of the colony's patients. He labored alone for years but, as word of his work got around, other ministers joined him.

Damien became infected with leprosy and, after sixteen years of serving at Molokai, it would take his life. He was comforted in his last days not only physically by the medical missionaries that had come to the colony but, also, by knowing that care for those he loved would continue.

He is honored by statues in Hawaii Belgium and by movies (Molokai) and books (Father Damien.) The Roman Catholic Church designated him a Saint. Damien is remembered today because of his love for Jesus and the outcasts with whom Jesus identified. Damien's love overcame the fear of disease and death.

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.”
Matthew 25:40

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