Monday, August 29, 2011

Father Damien of Molokai

Last night, my husband and I watched a wonderful movie about Saint Damien of Molokai. Once again, as in my post about Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, the saints are making me look bad.

Father Damien had a lot to complain about. In 1873, he volunteered to establish a parish on the island of Molokai for the lepers of Kalaupapa, a leper colony established there to quarantine infected people. After a short time, he began writing to his bishop and the government, petitioning them for timber to build shelters, food for the patients, medicine, and nuns and priests to assist him in his work. His petitions continued for 16 years, and fell mostly on deaf ears.

In the scene that accused me so deeply, Father Damien has returned to Honolulu for the last time to ask for help. He has contracted leprosy and this will be his last visit to the mainland, to make confession and plead for help for the lepers at Molokai. He speaks to a nun that came to Honolulu five years prior with the intention of assisting him. She was prevented from doing so by the bishop. She has adopted as her own the lie that she has been told by her superiors: the sisters are so busy here in the mainland hospital, we can't possibly be spared for Molokai. Here is Father Damien's response:

"Sister Mary Anne, here, you have 4 doctors, 7 sisters, and 100 patients, none of whom are dying. On Molokai, we have no doctors, no sisters, soon we will have no priest, and 1,000 patients, all of whom are dying."

Father Damien is then interrupted by Father Leonore, an assistant to the bishop, who calls his pleas for help an "embarrassment." Fortunately, however, the meeting made an impression on Sister Mary Anne and she and several of her companions joined Father Damien on the island shortly before his death in 1889.

The reason Father Damien makes me look bad is because he slept on the ground, re-built a church, bandaged sores for people he was not supposed to touch, insisted on clothing, food, medicine, and shelter for a wretched and forgotten people, and eventually contracted leprosy and died because he refused to leave the lepers without help. He freely chose the death he knew he would almost certainly obtain (apart from a miracle) but still refused treatment beyond what the other lepers received. Those of you who read about my insurance crisis (which should probably be re-titled "The Post in Which Beth Makes a Mountain Out of a Molehill") will understand how bad this really makes me look. In the final analysis, I am sitting on the mainland, complaining about my bandaged sores and my Japanese baths (insulin pump, anyone?) and my four doctors and seven nurses while people whose suffering exceeds mine by a factor of 10,000 languish in agony.

Saint Damien of Molokai, please keep making us look bad - and pray for us.

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