Dear Brothers and Sisters of Saint Patrick,
Marking the occasion of my 50th birthday, I fulfilled a personal goal last year as I traveled to my fiftieth state. Beautiful Hawaii was the capstone. I blame my parents for the wanderlust and will continue to blame them as I now seek to visit every continent before I’m too tired to venture out.
The reason I share this momentous trip is to share with you a rich blessing that I received. Thanks to the kind efforts of Bishop Larry Silva, Bishop of Honolulu, I had the opportunity to fly to Kalaupapa, a remote peninsula on the island of Mo-loka’i. From 1866 to 1969 this peninsula was designated as a leper colony and, at its peak, had 1,200 residents who were afflicted with the dreadful disease.
It is here that St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope, among many others, did their incredible pastoral work to ensure the dignity of each and every resident—young and old—who was confined to the isolation of this place. Although the isolation law was lifted in 1969, the members of this community retained the right to remain due to their severe scars and physical deformities. Today, approximately 14 people call this peninsula their home. Clergy and religious continue to provide pastoral care and to welcome official visitors to the community. Actual tourists to the colony are prohibited in an effort to honor the dignity and privacy of the remaining residents.
As I shared with the bishop in a recent correspondence, I can’t help but draw parallels between the way a disease was dealt with then and the reality of today’s global pandemic, along with other episodes of plague throughout history. It always seems that disease forces isolation, an understandable but painful approach to prevent spreading. And, although the action is helpful, there is a great price to pay. Loneliness, detachment, depression, and other manifestations of personal darkness often accompany isolation. Maybe not a literal peninsula that we find ourselves on in the present crisis but let’s consider those who have been isolated in their homes or nursing facilities for the past several months. And those who die alone on ICU floors. And those who care and tend to the others. And those—many of us—who can’t even give or receive a loving embrace. All this isolation due to a disease for which we’ve not found a remedy. Kalaupapa has taken on a deeper meaning for me in these recent months.
It’s not only this pandemic that has caused isolation and division in recent times. We all suffer when people are treated differently due to their color because others justify it. We all suffer isolation when unborn sisters and brothers aren’t given the opportunity to take their first breath because others call it a right to choose. We all suffer when the incarcerated are treated as less than human because others insist that they do not deserve adequate treatment. We all struggle when the poor, the hungry, and homeless are merely seen as someone else’s problem because of personal indifference. We all suffer isolation when pollution and wastefulness choke the earth’s ability to sustain viability because materialism has consumed the nations. We all suffer from isolation when a political label is more important than our identity as citizens of the City of God because politics become more important than truth and charity.
The reason St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope, along with their colleagues, are held in saintly esteem is because of their willingness to go where very few others desired to be and do what others couldn’t even fathom. Indeed, Kalaupapa has taken on a deeper meaning for me in these recent months!
May the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, the image of this month’s devotion, wash away our personal iniquities so that room is made in each of our souls to receive the fullness of God’s grace. May humility and the renewal of God’s eternal plan guide our hearts.
Charitably yours in Christ,