Today’s Gospel centers on the plight of a leper and Jesus’ response of healing. In Hawaii, the bacterium that causes leprosy probably entered from China in the mid-1800s, and the native islanders were susceptible to the dreaded disease. In 1866, the government literally dumped the sufferers on a remote and virtually inaccessible island peninsula with towering cliffs. Thrown off ships into the sea, the sick people were told to swim for the beach and head for caves, and for seven years the only supplies were similarly cast into the sea to drift ashore.
It was then, in 1873, that a thirty-three-year-old Belgian priest, Damien de Veuster, went voluntarily to Kalaupapa. Before long, he cajoled the government into funding his mission and its hospital, built a village with proper homes and sanitation, and recruited Mother Marianne Cope to bring sisters from Syracuse, New York, to nurse the sick. Damien, who eventually died of leprosy, has been canonized, and Mother Marianne as well.
Although leprosy has been curable since the 1940s, today a few patients remain in their lifelong home, now a national historic site. The peninsula is still utterly isolated from the outside world, and the speed limit for the few cars there is 5 mph since there’s nowhere to go! The hospital is still well staffed and equipped, but access is regulated and visitors must take an official tour, often involving a descent down the cliffs by “Molakai mule.” There are few places on earth that evoke the healing power of Jesus, or our call to follow the Healer, more than Damien’s beloved island mission.BACK TO LIST