Lepers no more
Yohei Sasakawa; 11/10/09
Earlier this month, Father Damien was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. This religious and spiritual ceremony is an opportunity to reflect on Father Damien’s life and the lives of those with whom he is most closely associated – people affected by leprosy. In 1873, Father Damien, a Belgian priest, went to live among people with leprosy who had been exiled to an isolated peninsula on Molokai Island in Hawaii. It was a time when leprosy was feared as a dangerous, contagious disease that had no cure. The world is dotted with islands where people with leprosy were once banished, including Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela would later serve time as a political prisoner; Culion Island in the Philippines; various islands in the Mediterranean; and five islands in Japan. For the 16 years following his arrival on the island, until he himself died of the disease, Father Damien devoted his life to the welfare of people affected by leprosy on Molokai.