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A Cry for Help

Virgina Helen Richards Fsp Pauline Books and Media ePub

10

A Cry for Help

It was good to see the familiar faces of his fellow priests again and to talk with his superior, Father Modeste. The dedication of the new church was a beautiful event for both the priests and the people. In the little reception hall, all the missionaries gathered, reliving old times, exchanging news from Europe, and, best of all, sharing the work and successes of their own territories.

“Yes,” said Bishop Maigret, “we can thank God that much has been accomplished. New churches have been constructed. Hundreds of good people have been baptized. Only God knows all the good done by each of you. But one place still needs our help …”

The hall went still. All eyes were focused on the Bishop. They knew the place he was referring to: Molokai (pronounced moh-loh-KAH-ee)—the island of the much-feared disease of leprosy. This affliction was also called the “death before death” because of its terrible symptoms.

Leprosy had first struck the islands some thirty years before Damien’s arrival. Panic and fear prompted difficult and drastic decisions. Because leprosy was thought to be highly contagious, King Kamehameha V (pronounced kah-MEH-hah-MEH-hah) made a law of segregation in 1865. All those diagnosed were separated from the rest of society and sent to Molokai, far away from their families and friends.

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Blessed Marianne Cope

Virgina Helen Richards Fsp Pauline Books and Media ePub

18

Blessed Marianne Cope

The world reacted strongly to the news that Father Damien had contracted leprosy. Those who loved him were shocked, and they resolved to help him even more. Those who disliked him blamed this misfortune on his lack of caution. They said he was foolish. They said he just wanted publicity.

But a little group of religious sisters in Honolulu couldn’t have cared less what newspapers and journals were saying about the apostle of Molokai. For two years these Franciscan sisters had operated a branch hospital on the Honolulu coast for people in the first stages of leprosy. Father Damien had wanted the sisters to come to Molokai, but the board of health had blocked his plans. But as it happened, the sisters were soon to have Father Damien as one of their own patients. It was nearly two years since he had been diagnosed, and Damien was coming to try one of the new treatments for leprosy discovered by Dr. Masanao Goto, a Japanese physician who had done research into leprosy.

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An Unexpected Call

Virgina Helen Richards Fsp Pauline Books and Media ePub

6

An Unexpected Call

Damien professed his vows on October 7, 1860, when he was just twenty years old. He then moved to Paris to study Greek, Latin, and philosophy at the headquarters of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Once again he dived into his assignment with boundless energy. Often he stayed up far into the evening to study. “I have so much to catch up on,” he would explain to friends who urged him to lighten up.

But that was not the only reason he pushed so hard. Damien’s heart was once again full of big dreams. Damien wanted to be an apostle and join his religious brothers who were lucky enough to be sent to distant mission lands.

One night, a visiting missionary bishop from the Pacific islands spoke to the community of the needs in his distant territory. Damien’s heart was on fire after that. He wrote letter after letter to Pamphile, each brimming with excitement. “Christ died to save all people. But how many people still have never even heard of Jesus? Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could join the ranks of our missionary brothers?” Pamphile wholeheartedly agreed.

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Growing Up in Belgium

Virgina Helen Richards Fsp Pauline Books and Media ePub

2

Growing Up in Belgium

Joseph’s close call on the road home from school wasn’t his first—or his last—childhood adventure. He loved excitement, and in the winter, when the Dyle River was frozen over, Joseph joined his friends in skating races. The competition could be fierce!

“Joseph, faster! Gerard is right behind you!” the crowd of onlookers shouted excitedly.

Joseph’s blood pulsed with excitement. He bit his lip and pumped faster and faster, flying forward in a burst of speed. The children cheered. Joseph had passed the finish line. But with the wind on his face, the exhilarating sensation of being on air, and the trees whizzing by in a blur of light and shadows, he was having too much fun to stop now!

A few of the children looked at one another in concern. “The ice is too thin out there. We never go out that far … what’s he thinking?”

“Joseph, stop! Come back!” they shouted with their hands cupped around their mouths. “Come back!”

But he was too far away to hear them. And the cold air felt so good.

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God Never Leaves His Own

Virgina Helen Richards Fsp Pauline Books and Media ePub

15

God Never Leaves His Own

In spite of this opposition, Molokai was changing. Much progress had been made. With the new lumber, shabby huts had been replaced by small, tidy cottages. The missionary even encouraged the residents to plant gardens around their homes, trusting that even small improvements would make hope grow in their own hearts. Slowly attitudes started shifting. The people took an interest in themselves now, and as they did so, life seemed more bearable.

Reform on Molokai had changed the outlook on death, too. Father Damien, who got his strength from the thought of heaven, tried to help his parishioners understand that death was the beginning of a new and eternal life with God.

“Father,” one elderly woman confided, “I’m not so afraid to think of dying now. You said that when we rise one day, our bodies will be beautiful again.” Her eyes filled with tears. “We have forgotten what it was like to be beautiful.” Father Damien watched her hobble away.

A blend of ingenuity and concern gave Father Damien a wonderful idea. He organized a burial society. The members made uniforms and colorful banners. When a fellow villager died, they made the funeral as solemn and as beautiful as they could. They carried the person’s body in procession, singing and honoring it as a temple of the Holy Spirit. This brought hope to all the villagers.

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