Beatification of Damien de Veuster

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Given June 4, 1995 in Brussels, Belgium

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:21-22).

The Apostles heard these words from the lips of the risen Christ on the evening of the Resurrection. On the morning of the first day of the week, the women, then Peter and John, saw that the tomb where Jesus had been laid was empty. The evening of that same day, Jesus appeared in their midst. It was the same Jesus they had known before, but, at the same time, he was different. On his body he bore the marks of the crucifixion and, at the same time, he was risen. No longer bound by the present laws of matter, he could enter the Upper Room while all the doors were locked. After greeting the Apostles with "Peace be with you", the risen Jesus spoke words of decisive importance for the Church's future: "'As the Father has sent me, so I send you'. Then he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound'" (Jn 20:22-23).

The real moment of the Holy Spirit's descent occurred on the evening of the Resurrection. Jesus, the Son consubstantial with the Father, breathed on the Apostles. This breath shows forth the origin of the Holy Spirit, who comes from the Father and the Son. This breath is salvific: it contains all the power of the Redemption accomplished by Christ. We understand that Christ, after saying to the Apostles:

"Receive the Holy Spirit", immediately spoke of the forgiveness of sins. He gave them the power to forgive sins, a power that comes from God. He imparted it to them together with the redeeming breath that announces the definitive coming of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles led to the Baptism of those who believed in Christ at Peter's word and who wanted the salvation given to all humanity through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ

2. The Acts of the Apostles gives a detailed description of the Pentecost event. The Holy Spirit, the breath of the Father and the Son, revealed his presence through a violent gust of wind. At the same time, the Holy Spirit made himself known through the medium of fire. See, above the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room he appeared as a fire which parted in tongues; it came to rest on each one's head. Wind and fire, natural elements, thus testify to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, these manifestations are accompanied by a supernatural phenomenon. The Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak in other languages as the Spirit prompted them. This event caused great amazement among all who were staying in Jerusalem at the time, "devout Jews of every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). Filled with astonishment and wonder, they exclaimed: "Are not all of these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us hears them in his native tongue?" (Acts 2:7-8).

When the author of the Acts of the Apostles listed the countries of the world known at that time, from where the pilgrims witnessing the Pentecost event had come, he drew up a virtual geography of the first evangelization, which the Apostles would accomplish as they proclaimed in various languages "the marvels God has wrought".

Except for Rome, no mention was made of any country in Western, Central, Northern or Eastern Europe. Belgium was not named, much less the islands in the archipelago of Molokai in the distant Pacific. It is not a question of Fr. Damien de Veuster's homeland, nor of the country where he was to go on mission and give his life for Christ, thus fulfilling his service of love for neighbor.

3. In recalling the places dear to Fr. Damien's heart, I greet Their Majesties the King of the Belgians and the Queen, Her Majesty Queen Fabiola, as well as the members of the Diplomatic Corps and the civil authorities. I extend my fraternal best wishes to Cardinal Danneels on his anniversary and my warm greetings to Cardinal Suenens, who will celebrate his anniversary in a few days. I cordially greet all the Bishops. I am delighted at the presence of Fr. Damien's family, the many missionaries and the delegations from the towns of Tremelo, Malonne and Louvain, and at the association of the Friends of Father Damien.

I am pleased to welcome the delegates from the Hawaiian Islands: to you all, my warm and sincere best wishes. May the peace and love of Christ be with you!

4. Down the centuries the Church has never ceased growing and bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth, in response to Christ himself, who gave the Holy Spirit, the indispensable strength for men to carry out the task of evangelization. The Church gives thanks to the Holy Spirit for Fr. Damien, since it is the Spirit who inspired him with the desire to devote himself unreservedly to lepers on the islands of the Pacific, particularly on Molokai. Today, through me, the Church acknowledges and confirms the value of Fr. Damien's example along the path of holiness, praising God for having guided him to the end of his life on an often difficult journey. She joyfully contemplates what God can achieve through human weakness, for "it is he who gives us holiness and it is man who receives it" (Origen, Homilies on Samuel, I, 11, 11).

Fr. Damien displayed a particular form of holiness in his ministry; he was at once a priest, religious and missionary. With these three qualities, he revealed the face of Christ, showing the path of salvation, teaching the Gospel and working tirelessly for development. He organized religious, social and fraternal life on Molokai, at the time an island of banishment from society; with him everyone had a place, each one was recognized and loved by his brothers and sisters.

On this day of Pentecost, we ask the assistance of the Holy Spirit for ourselves and for all men, so that we can let him take hold of us. We are certain that he imposes nothing unattainable on us, but that by sometimes steep paths he leads our being and our existence to their perfection. This celebration is also an appeal to deepen our spiritual life, whether we are sick or healthy, regardless of our social status.

Dear brothers and sisters of Belgium, each of you is called to holiness: put your talents at the service of Christ, the Church and your brothers and sisters; let yourselves be humbly and patiently moulded by the Spirit! Holiness is not perfection according to human criteria; it is not reserved for a small number of exceptional persons. It is for everyone; it is the Lord who brings us to holiness, when we are willing to collaborate in the salvation of the world for the glory of God, despite our sin and our sometimes rebellious temperament. In your daily life, you are called to make choices that "occasionally demand uncommon sacrifices" (Veritatis splendor, n. 102). This is the price of true happiness. The apostle of the lepers is witness to that.

5. Today's celebration is also a call to solidarity. While Damien was among the sick, he could say in his heart: "Our Lord will give me the graces I need to carry my cross and follow him, even to our special Calvary at Kalawao". The certainty that only things that count are love and the gift of self was his inspiration and the source of his happiness. The apostle of the lepers is a shining example of how the love of God does not take us away from the world.

Far from it: the love of Christ makes us love our brothers and sisters even to the point of giving up our lives for them.

I am pleased to greet the Bishop of Honolulu, who accompanies the pilgrims of Hawaii to this solemn and joyful celebration.

6. Today, dear brothers and sisters of Belgium, it is your responsibility to take up the torch of Fr. Damien. His witness is an appeal to you, particularly to you, young people, so that you can know him and, through his sacrifice, you will grow in your desire to love God, the source of all true love and of all true success, and in your desire to make a real offering of your life.

7. My heart turns to those who today are still suffering from leprosy. In Damien they now have an intercessor, because, before contracting the disease, he had already identified with them and often said: "We others, the lepers". In urging his cause for beatification with Paul VI, Raoul Follereau had a glimpse of the spiritual influence that Damien could have after his death. My prayer is for all those who are stricken by grave and incurable diseases, or are close to death. However, prayer also unites all who are afflicted with serious, incurable illnesses, or who are at the point of death. As the Bishops of your country have recalled, all men have the right to receive from their brothers and sisters a hand extended, a word, a glance, a patient and loving presence, even if they have no hope of being cured. Brothers and sisters who are ill, you are loved by God and the Church! For the human race, suffering is an inexplicable mystery; if it crushes the man left to his own forces, it finds meaning in the mystery of Christ who died and rose again, who remains close to every person and whispers to him: "Take courage! I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33). I thank the Lord for those who accompany and assist the sick, the young, the weak and defenceless, the outcasts: I am thinking especially of health-care professionals, priests and lay people in pastoral care, hospital visitors and those dedicated to the cause of life, to the protection of children and to providing each individual with shelter and a place in society. By their deeds, they call to mind the incomparable dignity of our brothers and sisters who suffer in mind o body; they show that every life, even the most frail and suffering, has importance and value in God's sight. With the eyes of faith, beyond appearances, we can see that every person bears the rich treasure of his humanity and the presence of God, who fashioned him from the beginning (cf. Ps 139 [138]).

8. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: "No one can say: 'Jesus is Lord', except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).

In fact, to say "Jesus is Lord" means professing his divinity, as St. Peter professed in the Apostles' name at Caesarea Philippi. "The Lord"—Kyrios in Greek—is he who rules over all creation, he to whom the Psalm we have heard is addressed: "Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord, my God, you are great indeed! How manifold are your works, O Lord! The earth is full of your creatures. If you take away their breath, they perish and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps 103 [104]:1, 24, 29-30).

These verses of the liturgy speak of God's power over all creation.

They concern the Holy Spirit, who is God and who gives life with the Father and the Son. And so today the Church prays: "O Lord, send forth your Spirit who renews the face of the earth"! The Holy Spirit enables man to come to know Christ and to profess his divinity:

"Jesus is Lord"—"Kyrios"!

In a certain way Fr. Damien imbibed this faith in Christ's divinity with his mother's milk, in his family in Flanders. He grew up with it and later it led him to his brothers and sisters in the distant islands of Molokai. In order to give confirmation to the truth of his witness, he offered his life in their midst. What could he have offered the lepers, who were condemned to a slow death, if not his own faith and this truth that Christ is Lord and God is love? He became a leper among the lepers; he became a leper for the lepers.

He suffered and died like them, believing that he would rise again in Christ, for Christ is Lord!

9. St. Paul also writes: "There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor 12:4-7). With these words the Apostle presents a dynamic vision of the Church, dynamic and at the same time charismatic. In this charismatic vision, the Spirit manifests himself, the Spirit sent by the Father in Christ's name, upon the Apostles. Everything has its origin in the various gifts of grace which enable believers to carry out their activities and to fulfil their vocations and various ministries in the Church and in the world.

Paul's view is universal, and, in this universal mission, we certainly find part of our blessed's life: his charism, his vocation and his ministry. In all this the Holy Spirit has manifested himself for the common good. The beatification of Fr. Damien benefits the entire Church. It has particular importance for the Church in Belgium, as well as for the Church in the islands of Oceania.

10. It is providential that this beatification is taking place on the Solemnity of Pentecost. In the Letter to the Corinthians, Paul goes on to say: "The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ. It was in one Spirit that all of us ... were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:12-13). This Spirit has blown across the distant islands of Oceania through the ministry of Fr. Damien; it finds an echo in your families, your parishes and your missionary congregations. In the history of your country, there have been a great number of works for the benefit and growth of the Church; worthy of particular note is the establishment of many religious congregations, which have had an important influence through their spiritual, charitable, intellectual and social activities. On the other, individuals endowed with profound charisms began to achieve great works. One need only mention foundations such as the Catholic Universities of Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve, and the Young Catholic Workers (J.O.C.); suffice it to recall persons such as Cardinal Mercier, a pioneer of ecumenism, or later, Cardinal Cardijn, founder of the Young Catholic Workers, and many others through whom the Spirit worked for the good of the whole Church, not only in your country but throughout the world.

11. Blessed Damien, you let yourself be led by the Spirit as a son obedient to the Father's will. In your life and your missionary work, you show forth Christ's tenderness and mercy for every man, revealing the beauty of his inner self, which no illness, no deformity, no weakness can totally disfigure. By your actions and your preaching, you remind us that Jesus took on himself the poverty and suffering of mankind, and that he has revealed is mysterious value. Intercede with Christ, physician of soul and body, for our sick brothers and sisters, so that in their anguish and pain they may never feel abandoned, but that, in union with the risen Lord and with his Church, they may discover that the Holy Spirit comes to visit them and they may receive the comfort promised to the afflicted.

12. "May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works!" (Ps 103 [104]:31). It is with these words of the psalmist that I wish to end our meditation on this solemn, long-awaited day, when the mature fruit of holiness—Fr. Damien de Veuster—receives the glory of the altars in his homeland. Brothers and sisters, be docile to the Holy Spirit, so that through your life men can discover the God from whom every perfect gift comes!

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 June 1995

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