St. Damien, "apostle to lepers" and self-described "happiest missionary in the world"

Today is the feast day of St. Damien de Veuster, known as the “apostle to the lepers.”

Disciples receive. Apostles give. Damien gave his life as a Father of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus Fathers) to a colony of lepers on an island called Molokai.

It was the year 1873 when he went over to the island, knowing full well that he would most likely contract the disease and die from it there.

Conditions were of course not good; Damien once called the land a “living cemetery”. We can only imagine.

He caught the disease himself and died on this day in 1889.

For most of his years on the island, he seems to have been the only priest there. At one point visitors were allowed, so a visiting priest came every now and then to hear his confession, but conditions got so bad that no one returned even for a short visit.

He was an apostle in the truest sense. He was no stranger to service, suffering, immense pain, loneliness, a sense of futility, deaths every day, poor living conditions, etc…

Yet in the midst of all that, Damien described himself as the “happiest missionary in the world.”

What a beautiful way for one to describe his ministry.

You know as well as I, the only way he could say that is if he, like Paul, had completely died to himself. That he did.

We have much to learn from him.

St. Damien de Veuster: Pray for us!

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