Monday, May 10, 2010

Companions of the Cross 25th Anniversary Mass - Croatian Parish Visit - St. Damien Joseph de Vuester

On Friday evening, May 25th at 7:00 PM I presided at the Silver Jubilee Anniversary Celebration of the Companions of the Cross (CC) Foundation Day.

The large and vibrant congregation at Our Lady of Good Counsel (St. Mary's) Church joyfully gave thanks God for all His particular blessings poured out on the CC whole community over the last 25 years. In particular we kept in mind the CC Founder Fr. Bob Bedard and continue to ask God’s blessings upon Him in his frail but still inspiring state of health.

At the reception there were videos, a slideshow and pictures for all to enjoy: a walk down memory lane. Herewith some pix, courtesy of David W. Chan:

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Celebrating the Croatian Parish's Patronal Feast

Yesterday, I joined the Croatian community to celebrate St. Leopold Mandic and the blessings of their community's life under the guidance of Father Adam Tabak, their much-appreciated pastor.

Afterwards, there were songs, speeches and folkloric music in honour of Mother's Day (each mom was given a rose), followed by a hearty meal in the parish hall downstairs for well over two hundred mouths.

(The nine places at this table are reserved for): Archbishop, I. Basar (family), I. Didak (family), "the parish priest"

Formerly Notre Dame-des-Anges, the Croatian Church of St. Leopold Mandic serves well its parishioners scattered through the National Capital Region (Ottawa, Gatineau)

Enjoying each other's company while waiting to delight in Croatian specialties

It takes a lot of good-natured cooks to prepare meals for more than 200 parishioners

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Today is the first occasion to celebrate at the morning Eucharist St. Damien, a person whose heroism touched me from the time I read about him in a Catholic grade school reader. Here are some reflections on his controversial side published in last week's Catholic Register by Mary Marrocco:

Not long after his death in 1889, two faces of Damien were presented to the world: one holy and heroic, the other false, sinful and selfish. Which was the real Damien?

(The disciples, perhaps, had a similarly perplexing experience of Jesus. Pretender, criminal, blasphemer? Holy man, divine one? Some proclaimed one face, some another. How to know the truth of someone?)

Damien was considered a selfless missionary who served quarantined lepers at Kalaupapa and Kalawao, brought wonderful reforms there, contracted leprosy and died among his people, faithful to and beloved by them. But other stories about him circulated, too. In 1889, the Sydney Herald published a letter written by a Hawaiian minister Rev. Hyde, exposing Damien as a fraud, a self-serving, boorish, bigoted man who caught leprosy by sleeping with women on the island.

Who was the real Damien? What was the truth of his life? How can we discern anyone’s true face?

A remarkable response to these questions emerged from Robert Louis Stevenson, who read the Herald letter and decided to find the true Damien. How? By going to Molokai, putting his feet on the earth Damien walked, talking to those who knew him, including those who disliked him, seeing what he saw.

After seven days there, Stevenson wrote to Rev. Hyde. He laid out the same facts, but in a completely different setting. The difference is in the way he observes, the spirit in which he receives and tells the stories. In concluding Damien was a holy man, Stevenson depicts holiness. Not as synonymous with good breeding, high education, wealth or a pleasing personality. How easy it is to slip into thinking such ideas of success are God’s too.

Stevenson acknowledges Damien was headstrong, ignorant and inefficient; not particularly popular. In these very qualities, he finds, Damien’s holiness emerged, for he went where others wouldn’t. By giving his life to the leper communities, he made public their plight, drawing the help of people who wouldn’t otherwise have come and who brought the gifts he lacked (nursing, building, educating). He was called bigoted; once, he planned to distribute a gift of money only to Catholics there — as Hyde reported. Stevenson accepts this story, but adds that a colleague remonstrated with Damien well into the night, explaining why the money should be for everyone, and finally Damien not only agreed but thanked his colleague for leading him out of error. Stevenson reconsiders many criticisms made by Hyde; for example, that Damien went to Molokai without orders — which Stevenson takes as a virtue rather than a fault.

Hyde intimated that Damien contracted leprosy through sexual contact. Stevenson refuted this story by interviewing Molokai residents, noting that even those who disliked Damien didn’t bring this charge against him. Even if Damien had fallen in this way, he adds, on the anguished island where he gave his life, then the rest of us, standing on safe ground, not bearing what he bore and not giving as he gave, “should be moved to tears” not judgment. Today we know what neither Hyde nor Stevenson knew — that Hansen’s disease is not transmitted sexually, and that 95 per cent of people are immune to it. Why was Damien, one of the five per cent susceptible to contagion, the person moved to accompany these outcast, unimportant sufferers? He became like Christ by becoming like his people — even unto death, even unto unjust judgment.

Truth may not be easy, but it’s real. In order to see truly, one might have to change where one stands, turn around (the etymological meaning of “repent”), go places one would rather not face (the well-travelled Stevenson calls Molokai, even after the reforms, the most “harrowing” place he ever visited, “a pitiful place to visit and a hell to dwell in”). In order to see the truth, one might have to learn to love.

1 comment:

  1. Companions of the Cross 25th Anniversary Mass
    Thank you so much for presiding at mass on Friday evening celebrating the Foundation Day of the Companions. You spoke beautifully, and I enjoyed hearing about your experiences in Turin. One of our priests, Fr. Terry Donahue, recently returned from Turin and also related to us that it was a powerful experience. Thanks again – we were truly blessed by your presence and your gracious words.