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On Jan. 3, 1865, the Kingdom of Hawaii, then a sovereign state, enacted “An Act to Forestall the Unfold of Leprosy.” Any particular person suspected of getting the traditional illness – which is talked about way back to the Bible – can be inspected and, if deemed incurable, completely exiled to a peninsula on the island of Molokai.
Greater than 8,000 folks with leprosy fell sufferer to this coverage of everlasting segregation over the following century. Native Hawaiians renamed leprosy “ma’i ho’oka’awale ‘ohana”: the illness that separates household. Surrounded by steep cliffs and treacherous ocean, the peninsula served as a pure jail and shortly gathered a status as a de facto demise sentence.
However within the Catholic Church, Might 10 commemorates the day one man moved to Molokai willingly: Father Damien. Born Jozef De Veuster in Belgium, he got here to Hawaii as a younger Catholic missionary and spent the final 16 years of his life voluntarily residing within the leprosy colony, earlier than contracting the illness himself and dying in 1889.
Canonized as a saint in 2009, Father Damien was designated the patron saint of individuals with leprosy, or Hansen’s illness.
My analysis focuses on how Christian theology views socially stigmatized illnesses, reminiscent of leprosy. Because the HIV/AIDS epidemic started within the Eighties, Damien has additionally change into linked with the virus and impressed many Catholic teams that take care of sufferers. His legacy
illustrates the church’s sophisticated, typically dangerous views on HIV/AIDS – however has additionally helped folks see those that endure from stigmatized illnesses with extra company and dignity.
Becoming a member of the group
Damien landed at Molokai on Might 10, 1873. In a now well-known letter to his brother, he wrote that he would make himself “a leper with lepers,” to “acquire all to Christ.”
For over 2,000 years, “care” for folks with leprosy has typically been diminished to segregation. This was the case in Hawaii, the place the Board of Well being provided bounties to those that turned in suspected sufferers. The widespread perception that leprosy was a sophisticated stage of syphilis added an air of ethical condemnation to the coverage.
In accordance with accounts reminiscent of “Kaluapapa: A Collective Reminiscence,” which paperwork residents’ experiences within the colony, Damien employed his carpentry expertise to construct two chapels, new shelters for the residents, and a mess of coffins. He offered rudimentary medical care, secured a contemporary water provide, and established an orphanage. At a time when worry of being close to folks with leprosy was the norm, the priest additionally ate with residents from the identical pot, and shared his pipe with them.
By the start of 1885, Damien started to point out indicators of getting contracted leprosy, and in 1886 the priest formally grew to become referred to as Admission #2886 to the settlements. Three years later, he succumbed to the illness.
Corbis Historic by way of Getty Photographs
Damien’s ministry garnered a world viewers, elevating him to one thing of a celeb, and his demise prompted a direct response. The longer term king of England, Edward VII, proposed to erect a monument to Damien on Molokai, to determine a ward dedicated to leprosy in a London medical establishment and to fund analysis on leprosy in India. Damien’s instance impressed the creation of a number of different organizations dedicated to the examine and remedy of leprosy, from the U.S. and Belgium to Congo and Korea.
In 1967, the French journalist and humanitarian Raoul Follereau offered the pope with a petition signed by virtually 33,000 leprosy sufferers, calling for the beatification of Father Damien. In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Damien “venerable,” step one towards canonization – which finally occurred in 2009, underneath Pope Benedict XVI.
Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis Historic by way of Getty Photographs
From leprosy to HIV/AIDS
However how did the patron saint of individuals residing with leprosy change into, informally, a patron saint of individuals residing with HIV and AIDS? Given the Catholic Church’s conventional stances in opposition to homosexuality, condoms and extramarital intercourse, the notion can appear paradoxical.
Comparisons between the 2 illnesses had been constituted of the early days of the AIDS disaster: Each had been thought of mysterious and horrifying and severely stigmatized, with victims typically considered as “soiled” or “sinful.” Many caregivers had been afraid to even contact AIDS sufferers.
Invoking Father Damien’s instance grew to become a method for spiritual organizations to legitimize their HIV/AIDS outreach within the eyes of the church and to emphasise their concern for sufferers’ social stigma – even when the Catholic Church itself was serving to to perpetrate that stigma, and arguably the illness itself.
In 2003, for instance, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Household, wrote that “using condoms goes in opposition to human dignity. Condoms change the gorgeous act of affection right into a egocentric seek for pleasure – whereas rejecting duty. Condoms don’t assure safety in opposition to HIV/AIDS. Condoms could even be one of many principal causes for the unfold of HIV/AIDS.”
Even in 2009, the 12 months Damien was canonized, Pope Benedict remarked that the AIDS epidemic “can’t be overcome via the distribution of condoms; quite the opposite, they enhance it” – an perspective out of contact with most U.S. Catholics’ views, to not point out medical science. The pope’s assertion provoked such outrage that the Belgian Parliament even condemned it.
However many within the Catholic Church responded to the AIDS disaster with empathy. In 1985, for instance – just some years after the illness had been recognized – the New York Archdiocese opened a remedy facility at St. Clare’s Hospital, the state’s first specialised AIDS unit.
A lot of ministries turned to Father Damien as inspiration for AIDS-related work, years earlier than the church formally made him a saint. Doubtless the oldest is Damien Ministries, based in 1987 “to serve the poorest of the poor residing with HIV and AIDS, as impressed by the lifetime of the Blessed Father Damien.” The Washington, D.C.-based ministry adopted a solidarity method modeled after Damien’s ministry on Molokai, citing parallels between leprosy and HIV/AIDS.
Different Damien-inspired organizations embody the Albany Damien Middle, the Damien Middle of Indiana – based as a collaboration between Catholics and Episcopalians – and St. Damien Hospital in Haiti.
AP Picture/Alessandra Tarantino
Damien serves as what faith historian Robert Orsi calls an “articulatory pivot level”: a method folks – HIV/AIDS sufferers, on this case – can use their religion to reshape their expertise and acquire company, at the same time as that very same faith stigmatizes them as powerless “others.”
As a canonized saint, Damien is embraced by the very best ranges of the church. But as a person who embraced these the remainder of society had rejected, becoming a member of them and even dying for them, he additionally represents folks on the margins.
College of Chicago Divinity College is a member of the Affiliation of Theological Faculties
The ATS is a funding associate of The Dialog U.S.
Mark Lambert doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.