The Canonization of Father Damien
Father Damien, a 19th century Flemish-born missionary who ministered to leprosy patients in Hawaii, will be declared a saint at a Vatican ceremony to be held on October 11.
Born Joseph de Veuster, in 1840 in Tremelo, Belgium, he entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in 1859 and was ordained a priest in Honolulu. He worked on the Big Island for nine years and then spent sixteen years on Molokai, ultimately succumbing to leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) in 1889.
Father Damien is revered in Hawaii. In 1969, the State gave a statue of him to the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. In 1995, Hawaii Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye proposed a resolution honoring the priest that was passed by the U.S. Senate. This October, Bishop Larry Silva of the Diocese of Hawaii will lead a pilgrimage of Hawaiians that will stop in Belgium before heading to Italy for the canonization in Saint Peter’s Square. Participants will visit Father Damien’s hometown of Tremelo, hear Mass at his tomb in Leuven, and tour Brussels and Bruges.
Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, will travel to Hawaii in late October. He will say Mass at Father Damien’s church on the island of Molokai and, on November 1 will con-celebrate a Mass in the Cathedral of Honolulu, where a relic of the new saint will be placed.
In the past few deades, Blessed Damien has become the unofficial patron saint of victims of HIV/AIDS; his legacy includes the many Damien Centers across the United States which provide programs and services to those affected by the disease.