Leprosy, now more commonly called Hansen's Disease, has been feared since Biblical times. There was no cure for many years, and so the only way to stop contamination was segregating those afflicted. The disease can cause tumors and lesions all over the body and also cause the loss of fingers, toes, limbs and facial features. When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his reply to Rev. Hyde after Fr. Damien's death, he wrote of his first impressions of Kalaupapa: When I was pulled ashore there one early morning, there sat with me in the boat two Sisters, bidding farewell (in humble imitation of Damien) to the lights and joys of human life. One of these wept silently; I could not withhold myself from joining her. Had you been there, it is my belief that nature would have triumphed even in you; and as the boat drew but a little nearer, and you beheld the stairs crowded with abominable deformations of our common manhood, and saw yourself landing in the midst of such a population as only now and then surrounds us in the horror of a nightmare. Had you gone on, had you found every fourth face a blot upon the landscape, had you visited the hospital and seen the butt-ends of human beings lying there almost unrecognizable, but still breathing, still thinking, still remembering; you would have understood that life in the (colony) is an ordeal from which the nerves of a man's spirit shrink. It is not the fear of possible infection. That seems a little thing when compared with the pain, the pity, and the disgust of the visitor's surroundings, and the atmosphere of affliction, disease and physical disgrace in which he breathes.
Although Hanson's Disease is now completely controllable with antibiotics, there are places where it is still considered a curse because the medicine needed is not always available."When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, 'Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean'" (Matthew 8:1-2).Whether Hanson's disease, AIDS, or any other affliction, Christ still makes sufferers clean through compassionate hearts, healing hands, and generous souls. Let us pray for those missionaries who, like Fr. Damien, minister to the sick every day.
St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us!