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Monday, January 30, 2006

A father's eloquent example

A father’s eloquent example
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY! Thanks to Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington, USA who first had the idea of "father's day" that she had thought of while listening to a Mother's Day sermon in 1909 to honor her father William Smart, a Civil War veteran.

The celebration of a national Father's Day was supported by US President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Then in 1966, Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father's Day. President Richard Nixon signed the law which finally made it permanent in 1972.

This allows due recognition for fathers who empower us with their simple eloquent examples, just like Father Damien of Moloka'i - my best example of father's love personified. He shone through the silent eloquence of his love for a community suffering from Hansen's disease (leprosy).

According to accounts, no person is as central to the history of Kalawao and Kalaupapa (Hawaiian islands) as Joseph De Veuster, best known to the world as Father Damien.

It was told that he arrived during the early days of Kalawao’s history, when people with Hansen’s disease were being rounded up throughout the Hawaiian islands and shipped to the isolated settlement on Moloka`i.The account went: "Joseph De Veuster was born in Tremeloo, Belgium, in 1840. He arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864. There he was ordained in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on May 31 and took the name of Damien.

"His first calling was on the big island of Hawai`i where he spent eight years. He often traveled great distances to minister to the people of his districts of Puna, followed by Kohala and Hamakua.

"In 1873, he learned of the need for priests to serve the 700 Hansen’s disease victims confined on the island of Moloka`i. He and three other priests volunteered to go in succession. Damien was the first, and soon he was on a boat carrying cattle and 50 patients bound for Kalawao.

"Damien was the most famous but not the first caregiver or religious worker to arrive at Kalawao. He followed congregational ministers, Catholic priests, Mormon elders, and family and friends of patients who went voluntarily to Kalawao to help. Slowly, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope. He spoke the Hawaiian language. Assisted by patients, he built houses, constructed a water system, and planted trees. He also organized schools, bands, and choirs. He provided medical care for the living and buried the dead.

"Father Damien had lived in Kalawao 12 years when it was confirmed that he had contracted Hansen’s disease. Although the disease is not highly contagious, Damien had not been careful about hygiene. Over the years he had done nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the bowl shared with other patients. He shared his pipe. And he did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores.

"Father Damien was 49 years old when he died April 15, 1889 at Kalawao. Shortly before his death, he wrote his brother Pamphile, "I am gently going to my grave. It is the will of God, and I thank Him very much for letting me die of the same disease and in the same way as my lepers. I am very satisfied and very happy."

"He was buried in the cemetery next to his church, St. Philomena. The people of Kalawao had lost their strongest voice. Damien’s death was widely noted throughout Hawai`i and in Europe. As the years passed, his life of devotion served to inspire thousands. Because Kalaupapa remained an isolation settlement and the world could not come to his church and grave, Damien’s remains were exhumed in 1936 and reburied at Louvain, Belgium.

"In 1995, a relic composed of the remains of his right hand was returned to his original grave at Kalawao, to the great joy of Kalaupapa and the rest of Hawai`i. Damien’s life of service and fatherly love to the sick and outcast continues to serve as an inspiration."

If only all fathers were made with a heart like his, it would be easier for the world to feel and see the transforming power of the human spirit.(/30)