Today is the feast day of the Roman Catholic Saint Damien – or Damien the Leper.
Damien was a Beligian, who took a religious vocation which led him eventually, at the age of 33, to the island of Molokai, where a community of people lived who suffered with Leprosy. This community was abandoned, shunned, by a world which feared the contagion of the ancient disease.
Damien spent his life on Molokai, serving the people of the island, and living as the poor among the poor. Eventually, after living among on Molokai for 12 years, he too contracted leprosy, and four years later he died.
He is a true inspiration for all of us.
In case you weren’t aware, leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is still a scourge of many developing countries. In 2009, there were nearly 134,000 new cases of leprosy in India alone. Major efforts to ‘eradicate’ the disease have yet to prevail, but many people I speak to don’t realise that it still exists.
If you are interested in learning more, have medical, research, or other skills you could contribute to the ongoing battle, or feel able to make a donation towards the work, you could start by visiting The Leprosy Mission if you are UK based, or the American Leprosy Mission if you are in the US. There are also a number of other excellent Leprosy charities.
In the meantime, consider Damien’s life an object lesson in self denial and Christ like determination to serve the poor and downtrodden.