Sunday, October 11, 2009

Our New Saint

Damian the Leper. From Rorate Caeli:

Damien was COARSE.

It is very possible. You make us sorry for the lepers, who had only a coarse old peasant for their friend and father. But you, who were so refined, why were you not there, to cheer them with the lights of culture? Or may I remind you that we have some reason to doubt if John the Baptist were genteel; and in the case of Peter, on whose career you doubtless dwell approvingly in the pulpit, no doubt at all he was a ‘coarse, headstrong’ fisherman! Yet even in our Protestant Bibles Peter is called Saint.

Damien was DIRTY.

He was. Think of the poor lepers annoyed with this dirty comrade! But the clean Dr. Hyde was at his food in a fine house.

Damien was HEADSTRONG.

I believe you are right again; and I thank God for his strong head and heart.

Damien was BIGOTED.

I am not fond of bigots myself, because they are not fond of me. But what is meant by bigotry, that we should regard it as a blemish in a priest? Damien believed his own religion with the simplicity of a peasant or a child; as I would I could suppose that you do. For this, I wonder at him some way off; and had that been his only character, should have avoided him in life. But the point of interest in Damien, which has caused him to be so much talked about and made him at last the subject of your pen and mine, was that, in him, his bigotry, his intense and narrow faith, wrought potently for good, and strengthened him to be one of the world’s heroes and exemplars.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Open Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hyde of Honolulu
[Letter by the Protestant writer in response to
the accusations of Dr.C. M. Hyde, Presbyterian minister in Honolulu]
Sydney, February 25, 1890


May said...

A heroic priest... By the way, in 1967, the ex-King Leopold III of Belgium and his wife, Princess Lilian, visited Molokai and paid their respects at Father Damien's grave. On this occasion, they also (despite the warnings of doctors against doing so) insisted on visiting the lepers. Lilian, for all her reputation as an "iron woman," broke down and embraced one of the women. Leopold later recalled how heart-rending it all was, how the patients tried to cling to them and didn't want to let them go.

elena maria vidal said...

That's a very moving story, I did not know about that. Thank you, Matterhorn!

Julygirl said...

Actually it was/is not that easy to contract Leprosy. Fr. Damien lived very closely to the lepers for (I believe) 20 years before contracting the disease. This is not meant to take away from the enormous sacrifice the Saint made in dedicating his life to these unfortunate outcasts. I grew up in the Southern US and as a child we were fearful of contracting Leprosy because it still existed in those days. We would save our pennies and donate them to the Lepers at the 'Leper Colony' in Carville, Louisiana.

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