- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

Father Damien, the Belgian priest who came to this forsaken peninsula to minister to leprosy patients, then contracted the disease himself and died, is now a candidate for sainthood.
Joseph "Damien" de Veuster arrived at Kalaupapa, on the island of Molokai, at age 33 on May 10, 1873. Without a home, he spent his first weeks sleeping under a tree near St. Philomena Roman Catholic Church. He immediately was moved by the horrors that accompanied the skin- and nerve-killing disease.
"He was a holy man who worked very hard and cared for people who were neglected by everybody else," said the Rev. Joseph Hendriks, the resident priest at Kalaupapa.
Father Damien, who died in 1889, shared his faith and restored dignity and hope among the patients. He built coffins, dug graves, constructed homes and churches and performed medical care, such as bandaging wounds.
"Nobody else did it. There was no doctor here at the time when he came," said Father Hendriks, also a native of Belgium. "There was no idea where leprosy came from and how to handle it. It was a question mark. It was a mystery."
In considering Father Damien for sainthood, church officials are investigating a reported second miracle attributed to him. This was the unexplained recovery of a lung cancer patient who prayed at his grave.
The priest reached the step before canonization beatification in 1995. That was 100 years after the first miracle associated with him: the recovery of a dying nun who began a novena to him before slipping into unconsciousness.
Father Hendriks, 80, said he prays every night for Father Damien's sainthood.
"If Damien becomes a saint, he will be known all over the world," Father Hendriks said. "And people will learn from Damien, to love God, to serve the people. He died a martyr of charity."
Father Damien, often seen smoking a pipe he used to mask the odor from the patients' badly infected wounds, was scheduled to spend only three months on Kalaupapa. He stayed 16 years before contracting leprosy and becoming a patient himself. He died at age 49.
"We were lucky to have him," said Kalaupapa resident and historian Richard Marks. "I don't think of him as a saint. I just think of him as one hell of a good man, doing his job, what he was supposed to be doing."

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