May 18, 2015
By: Cecilia Dougherty, External Relations Associate
Last week, 33rd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue in New York City was named “Father Damien Way” to honor and pay tribute to the legacy of a Belgian priest who dedicated his life to serving those most in need.
In 1864, Father Damien travelled to Hawaii, arriving in Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i to care for people with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. These men, women and children had been shunned by society and lived in a colony, closed off from the rest of the island. Father Damien showed the people of Kalaupapa compassion and served them with dignity and love. Fr. Damien was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1995 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, making Fr. Damien the 10th saint to have been born, died, or lived their religious life in the present territory of the United States.
The impactful story of Fr. Damien resonates with me on a deeper level in finding my way to the END Fund. As the youngest in a family of seven, where all of us are named after saints, including a brother named Peter Damien after Fr. Damien, it is easy to see that faith is a part of my journey. And even from the first time I learned about NTDs, my faith was involved, as a presenter from END7 led me to a quote from Pope Francis that inspired my journey.
“If the whole church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first?… Not so much our friends and neighbors but above all, the poor and sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, ‘those who cannot repay you’ (Luke 14:14)”
Fr. Damien truly followed this call, reaching out to those who had been forgotten or overlooked, humbling himself to serve those who needed him, and ensuring that all men, women and children felt valued.
In some ways, it seems difficult to see how we could follow this calling in our everyday lives. How can we continue on Fr. Damien’s way? What can we do to serve those in need without exception? END Fund CEO, Ellen Agler, stated it in a speech highlighting Fr. Damien’s work:
“Just stay” – Service does not necessitate changing or fixing something. Often, the best form of service is simply “being” or staying. Sometimes what is needed more than a pill or a dollar bill, is a listening ear, a supportive shoulder. And, even that might seem daunting to us at times. How can one person help improve the lives of 1.4 billion people? In the same way as Fr. Damien, treating each individual, whether a child in sub-Saharan Africa, or an elderly man you pass on the street with dignity, not necessarily providing answers or resolutions, but simply being, acknowledging those who need support.
“Lower ourselves for a higher cause” – As Fr. Damien led the people of Kalaupapa through his example of service, the work of the END Fund and our partners constantly reminds us to work in solidarity for and with others, both neighbors and those who cannot repay. By humbling ourselves, joining with others in a cause, sharing a moment with someone in need, we are able to follow the example of Fr. Damien, to “minimize our importance in order to maximize our impact.”
In order to spread the message of Fr. Damien, we all have a role to play. Even as a member of a small team in New York City, I have a role to play, and am a part of this journey, to ensure that all life has equal value, to build a more just and equitable world. My hope is that each of us, no matter where we are on our spiritual or humanitarian journey, Irish- Catholic girl from New Jersey or not, whether we work in this space or not, may we remember the work of Fr. Damien and stay, even when it’s difficult, lower ourselves to serve others more justly, and work to ensure that all life has equal value, following Fr. Damien’s Way.
How will you follow Father Damien’s Way?