Molokai and The Story of Father Damien

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Some 2,200 miles southwest of California, in the heart of the Hawaiian islands, is the island of Molokai. Shaped somewhat like a fish with its head facing east, its tail in the west and a dorsal fin rising from its back on the north shore.

That dorsal fin is the nearly flat, ten-square-mile Makanalua Peninsula which juts into the Pacific below the world’s highest sea cliffs. A place of stunning beauty, it’s been blessed by nature’s grandeur, and cursed by humanity’s ignorance and fear.

Father Damien and the Lepers of Kalaupapa

Kalaupapa’s reputation as a leprosy colony is well-known. Hansen’s disease, the proper term for leprosy, is believed to have spread to Hawaii from China. The first documented case of leprosy occurred in 1848. Its rapid spread and unknown cure precipitated the urgent need for complete and total isolation.

Surrounded on three sides by the Pacific ocean and cut off from the rest of Molokai by 1600-foot sea cliffs, Kalaupapa provided the environment.

In early 1866, the first leprosy victims were shipped to Kalaupapa and existed for 7 years before Father Damien arrived.

The area was void of all amenities. No buildings, shelters nor potable water were available. These first arrivals dwelled in rock enclosures, caves, and in the most rudimentary shacks, built of sticks and dried leaves.

Folklore and oral histories recall some of the horrors: the leprosy victims, arriving by ship, were sometimes told to jump overboard and swim for their lives. Occasionally a strong rope was run from the anchored ship to the shore, and they pulled themselves painfully through the high, salty waves, with legs and feet dangling below like bait on a fishing line.

The ship’s crew would then throw into the water whatever supplies had been sent, relying on currents to carry them ashore or the exiles swimming to retrieve them.

In 1873, Father Damien deVeuster, aged 33, arrived at Kalaupapa. A Catholic missionary priest from Belgium, he served the leprosy patients at Kalaupapa until his death. A most dedicated and driven man, Father Damien did more than simply administer the faith: he built homes, churches and coffins; arranged for medical services and funding from Honolulu, and became a parent to his diseased wards.

In 1886, Brother Joseph Dutton arrived at Kalaupapa to assist Father Damien. Dutton, an energetic and dedicated missionary priest, assumed many of the duties Damien was unable to perform as his leprosy progressed.

Mother Marianne, another revered servant, devoted 29 years on the peninsula as an administrator, nurse and educator. She spent her life on the go, even as her age climbed well into the seventies. She died in 1918.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Father Damien to be venerable, the first of three steps that lead to sainthood. Pope John Paul II declared Damien blessed in 1995, the second step before canonization as a saint.

With the advent of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, the disease was put in remission and the sufferers are no longer contagious. The fewer than 100 former patients remaining on the peninsula are free to travel or relocate elsewhere, but most have chosen to remain where they have lived for so long.

The few cars on the peninsula travel at a top speed of five miles per hour, as there is nowhere to go and no reason to hurry.

A broad smile and a friendly wave of the hand are commonplace and integral to the lifestyle.

At Kalaupapa are the administration building, post office, book store, fire station, never-used jail and of course the hospital which, considering the size of the population, is one of the best staffed and equipped in Hawaii.

 

Source: http://visitmolokai.com/kala.html

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