In the 1800's, the Hawaiian Islands suffered a severe leprosy epidemic, which was dealt with largely by isolating lepers on the island of Molokai. They were simply dumped there and left to fend for themselves. The crews of the boats carrying them there were afraid to land, so they simply came in close and forced the lepers to jump overboard and scramble through the surf as best they could. Ashore, they found no law and no organized society, simply desperate persons waiting for death.
A Belgian missionary priest, Joseph Van Veuster (Damien of the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts), born in 1840, came to Hawaii in 1863, and in 1873 was sent at his own request to Molokai to work among the lepers. He organized burial details and funeral services, so that death might have some dignity. He taught the people how to grow crops and feed themselves better. He organized a choir, and got persons to sing who had not sung in years. He gave them medical attention. (Government doctors had been making regular visits, but they were afraid of contagion, and would not come close to the patients. They inspected their sores from a distance and then left medicines on a table and fled. Damien personally washed and anointed and bandaged their sores.) There was already a small chapel on the island. It proved too small, and with the aid of patients he built a larger one, which soon overflowed every Sunday. Damien contracted leprosy himself in 1885, and continued to work there until his death on 15 April 1889.
Propers for Damien of Molokai - Priest, Missionary and Healer
Almighty Father, we praise Thy name for Thy servant Damien, missionary to the lepers, and for all those who, following in the footsteps of Thy beloved Son, have preached the good news of salvation to the despised and rejected of the earth, not counting the cost to themselves; and we pray that Thy love for us may enkindle in our hearts an answering love for Thee and our neighbors, and that Thy grace may give us wisdom to see the opportunities Thou givest us to serve Thee, and the courage to grasp them; that in all things we may be made conformable unto the image of the same Thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who now liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, now and ever. Amen.
The Epistle - 2 Esdras 2:42-48.
I ESDRAS saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel. What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 10:16-22.
BEHOLD, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall he brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
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