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 Heart), 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.
written by James Kiefer
Almighty Father, we praise your name for your servant Damien, missionary to the lepers, and for all those who, following in the footsteps of your 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 your love for us may enkindle in our hearts an answering love for you and our neighbors, and that your grace may give us wisdom to see the opportunities you give us to serve you, and the courage to grasp them; that in all things we may be made conformable unto the image of the same your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who now lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.