May 10 is the feast of St. Damien of Molokai, the Belgian missionary who volunteered to serve the people who had been banished to a government-sanctioned leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Mokokai.
The bishop who accompanied Fr. Joseph Damien de Veuster when the priest came to live among the lepers told the crowd that he had brought them one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you. Damiens life was to become truly a sacrifice of love as he cared for those afflicted with leprosy, the disease ultimately consuming his own body.
This is from a letter that Fr. Damien wrote to his brother in 1873, about six months after arriving on Molokai:
God has deigned to choose your unworthy brother to assist the poor people attacked by that terrible malady, so often mentioned in the Gospelleprosy. For the last ten years this plague has been spreading in the islands and at last the Government found itself obliged to isolate those affected with it.
Shut up in a corner of the island of Molokai, between inaccessible cliffs and the sea, these unfortunate creatures are condemned to perpetual exile. Out of the two thousand in all who have been here, some eight hundred are still living, and among them is a certain number of Catholics. A priest was wanted; but here was a difficulty. For, as all communication was forbidden with the rest of the Islands, a priest who should be placed here must consider himself shut up with the lepers for the rest of his life; and Mgr. Maigret, our Vicar-Apostolic, declared that he should not impose this sacrifice on any of us. So, remembering that on the day of my profession I had already put myself under a funeral pall, I offered myself to his Lordship to meet, if he thought it well, this second death. Consequently, on May 11, a steamer landed me here, together with a batch of fifty lepers .
This may give you some idea of my daily work. Picture to yourself a collection of huts with eight hundred lepers. No doctor; in fact, as there is no cure, there seems no place for a doctors skill.
Every morning, then, after my Mass, which is followed by an instruction, I go to visit the sick, half of whom are Catholics. On entering each hut, I begin by offering to hear their confession. Those who refuse this spiritual help, are not, therefore, refused temporal assistance, which is given to all without distinction. Consequently, every one, with the exception of a very few bigoted heretics, look on me as a father. As for me, I make myself a leper, to gain all to Jesus Christ .
I have baptized more than a hundred persons since my arrival. A good part of these died with the white robe of baptismal grace. I have also buried a large number. The average of deaths is at least one a day. Many are so destitute that there is nothing to defray their burial expenses. They are simply wrapped in a blanket. As far as my duties allow the time, I make coffins myself for these poor people . (This quoted letter is taken from John Farrows, Damien the Leper. New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1999.)
Damien later contracted leprosy and died of the disease, after having served on Molokai for sixteen years. His presence there made the world realize that those afflicted with leprosy were not unclean outcasts, but vulnerable human beings whom God deeply loved and who were worthy of the same respect and dignity as everyone else. His life of sacrifice turned attention around the world to caring for these unfortunate men and women. Fr. Joseph Damien de Veuster was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009, and the state of Hawaii has honored Damien with a statue that stands in the United States Capitol.
This is taken from a Bible study by Jeanne Kun: Mighty in Power: The Miracles of Jesus