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Jan 3 - The Apostle to the Lepers

Updated: May 10, 2021

Jozef De Veuster was born today in 1840. He became known worldwide as Father Damien for his life dedicated to and living with lepers in Hawaii. And finally succumbed to the disease on 15 April 1889.

Venerated in the Anglican church, Pope Benedict canonised him, him declare him a saint in 2009. Hear about his story in todays podcast and the surprising role that the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson had in making him famous..... Also do you know the difference between a martyr of charity and a confessor? If you listen you might just find out....


Jozef De Veuster, was born today and would became known worldwide as Father Damien for his life dedicated to and living with lepers in Hawaii. He would become world famous for the eleven years he spent caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in a leper colony in Haiwaii. Ultimately he himself contracted leprosy (now known as Hansens disease) but continued with his work despite the infection. He finally succumbed to the disease on 15 April 1889 and is venerated in the Anglican church as a martyr of charity. He is considered the spiritual patron for leprosy and outcasts and Father Damien Day, 15 April, the day of his death, is also a minor statewide holiday in Hawaii. Pope Benedict was to canonise him, declare him a saint in 2009.

Because of the contagious nature of lepracy from 1866 through 1969, a total of about

8,000 Hawaiians were sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokaʻi. for medical quarantine. Two villages located there, were separated from the rest of Molokaʻi by a steep mountain ridge. The authorities did not intend for the settlements to be penal colonies, but the Kingdom of Hawaii did not provide enough resources to support them. It was hoped that they could become self-sustaining communities being able to care for themselves and grow their own crops. This proved impossible due to the effects of leprosy and the time Damian arrived the easy-going, good-natured people had changed, Drunken and lewd conduct prevailed.

Damien's arrival was a catalyst for a turning point for the community. Under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks were upgraded and improved as painted houses, working farms were organized, and schools were established. As his work became internationally famous the Catholic priest was sent large amounts of money by American Protestants and the Church of England sent food, medicine, clothing, and supplies to the settlement. Other Christian leaders, jealous of his fame criticised him, which led to the famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson visiting him for a week and then defending him in an open letter, which made him more famous in Europe. In 1884 while preparing to bathe, Damien inadvertently put his foot into scalding water, causing his skin to blister. He felt nothing and realized he had contracted leprosy after 11 years of working in the colony. His life and death has inspired many people, including famously Mahatma Ghandi.

He was Beatified, declared blessed, on 4 June 1995, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Brussels, by Pope John Paul II, Finally he was Canonized on 11th October 2009, in the Vatican, by Pope Benedict XVI. He is understood to be a a martyr of charity, someone who dies as a result of a charitable act or of administering Christian charity. Usually a martyr dies through being persecuted for being a Catholic or for being a Christian, but a martyr of charity dies through practicing charity motivated by Christianity, often recognized as "Confessor of the Faith" in the early church.

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