Bl. Damien de Veuster - Witness to God's Presence in History

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Message given on June 7, 1995

1. On Pentecost Sunday I once again visited Belgium, a nation and a Church to which I have been particularly attached since my student days in Rome when I was a guest of the Belgian College. This time the purpose of my brief visit was the beatification of Fr. Damien de Veuster, a missionary of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who gave his life to serving lepers on the island of Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands.

In the Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council dedicated a chapter precisely to the universal vocation to holiness.

This vocation is confirmed by the saints and blesseds whom the Church raises to the altar, holding them up as models of Gospel life, distinguished by their heroic virtues. A fortnight ago I had the joy of canonizing St. Zdislava and St. Jan Sarkander in Olomouc, Moravia.

Last Sunday it was Fr. Damien de Veuster's turn, almost as a continuation of the same witness to holiness. The fact that this beatification coincided with the Solemnity of Pentecost gave the event a note of particular eloquence. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Holy Trinity to whom God's holiness is particularly appropriated. Consequently, the Holy Spirit is the source of man's holiness and incessantly brings about our sanctification.

In the Upper Room, after the Lord's Ascension into heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles remained in prayer as they awaited the Holy Spirit: this prayer in some way has been constantly answered in the Church's history. Canonizations and beatifications testify to this, including the beatification of Fr. Damien, who lived from 1840 to 1889 and whose example also attracted, among others, the Polish Jesuit Fr. Jan Beyzym, apostle to the lepers of Madagascar.

Fr. Beyzym's beatification cause is currently under way.

2. June is the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was significantly stressed by the fact that Fr. Damien's beatification took place in Brussels, against the backdrop of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg. Despite the rain, it was followed with lively attention and brought together faithful from various cities and nations around the altar. One delegation had come from the island of Molokai to receive the relic of their missionary and take it home. The Belgian Church built the Basilica of the Sacred Heart after the end of the First World War, which claimed countless victims. How can we fail to remember the great war cemetery at Ypres, near Ghent, where during my previous pilgrimage ten years ago my meeting with young people took place?

The memory of the First and, especially, the Second World War on the morrow of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the war's end in Europe was combined during my visit with an ardent prayer for peace on the European continent and throughout the world. The Belgians are making an important contribution to building peace. It is worth mentioning here that the present Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Daneels, is President of Pax Christi, the worldwide organization. His predecessors played significant roles in the nation's history during the First and Second World Wars: during the first, Cardinal D. Mercier guided the Diocese and during the second, it was Cardinal J. Van Roey, whose heritage passed to Cardinal L. J. Suenens, who is now 90. The beatification rite, which took place at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, has enabled us to be associated with these great figures of the Church and with their witness to Christ.

The afternoon meeting, held in the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, was as it were a thanksgiving for the beatification expressed by the Congregations of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who are present in various countries of the world.

It is hoped that Fr. Damien's beatification may contribute to intensifying their missionary activities. All the members of the Belgian Episcopate took part. Among their merits in the Church's life, their achievements in the area of ecumenism in the pre-conciliar period and after the Second Vatican Council deserve to be mentioned.

3. To conclude, I would like to express my cordial thanks to the Bishops and the Church in Belgium for inviting me on this visit. I also thank the authorities, officials and public administrators who made every effort to ensure its successful outcome. I am grateful above all for the pastoral preparation of the visit, a guarantee of abundant spiritual fruits in the life of the faithful.

This Apostolic Visit should have taken place last year but because of my well-known accident it had to be postponed. It should have been longer, with more meetings and stops, including a meeting with youth, which is never missing from any of my apostolic pilgrimages, because young people are the future and the hope of the Church and society.

I would like to make the most of this opportunity to greet all those whom I had intended to meet.

It is difficult for me not to mention here the reigning dynasty. I thank King Albert and his wife for their kind welcome. Belgium is a constitutional monarchy and the Belgian royal family is an indelible part of the nation's history and also that of Europe. I am thinking of the kings during the First and Second World Wars. I am thinking especially of King Baudouin, who died recently and whom I was fortunate to have met several times, not only during my previous visit to Belgium, but also in Rome. His memory is impressed upon the minds of his compatriots and of us all. He was a great guardian of the rights of the human conscience, ready to defend God's commandments, especially the fifth commandment: "You shall not kill!", particularly when the protection of the life of unborn babies was at stake.

His spiritual legacy, preserved so carefully by his widow, Queen Fabiola, is a common treasure for the nation and for the Church. How much it still lives among his compatriots was evidenced by the moving, unanimous reaction that his memory caused in all those who took part in Fr. Damien's beatification ceremony.

My visit to Belgium, and above all Fr. Damien's beatification, has become an important stage in the journey of preparation for the beginning of the third millennium. Indeed, the saints more fully reveal Christ's presence in the history of humanity. Thanks to them Christ, "the same yesterday, today and forever" (cf. Heb 13:8), enables us to cross the boundaries of time, thus preparing ourselves for eternity, which is God's dimension.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
14 June 1995, p. 11

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