“He was my spiritual father, and my friend.”
Father Damien DeVeuster was canonized on October 11, 2009.
His canonization presents a unique opportunity to reflect on issues that were of great importance to him, in particular those relating to inherent dignity, social justice and human rights. His example is of special importance as issues related to leprosy and human rights are being brought to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Father Damien’s canonization also provides the opportunity to think deeply about the words that we use to refer to our fellow human beings. While the word “leper” was used in Father Damien’s day, along with many other words that are in disfavor today, it is important to think about his example, and that of Mother Marianne Cope, of recognizing and promoting the dignity inherent in every human being.
This term has taken on extremely negative connotations in the last century as it is used as a metaphor for that which is worst in society. Current definitions of this term include “corrupt person,” and “immoral and unclean,” which are hardly apt ways to describe Father Damien or those whom he called his friends.
In a modern society that discourages the use of hurtful terminology, it is preferable to recognize the individuality of each person and refer to someone who has had leprosy by their name. If their name is not known, it is acceptable to say “a person affected by leprosy” or a “person whose life has been challenged by leprosy.” The term “leprosy” is acceptable, but the term “leper” needs to be erased from our vocabulary.
As we honor Father Damien this year, it is important to also honor his belief in the value and worth of every human being by using language that promotes dignity and our common humanity.
Father Damien . . .
“A Bit of Taro, A Piece of Fish,
and A Glass of water”
A book about Father Damien, from the perspective of the people of Kalaupapa who knew him and worked alongside him.