Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today Id like to share with you a letter sent from India to a friend. You are undoubtedly aware of the anti-Christian violence that has been taking place in India but this letter will make it hit home faster than any television or radio report simply because it is from a member of our family, a fellow Christian.

The friend who sent this wrote: These persecutions arent covered on our evening news. While it is easy to take for granted our own freedom of worship, we should not forget that many Christian brothers and sisters worldwide face death simply because of their faith in our same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray for them. And tell whoever possible to pray for the Church in India.

Here is the letter:

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is a right-wing Hindu group, has launched a violent attack against Christians in the state of Orissa. (This is the group that burnt alive the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two children some years back.)

Last year, three or four churches in Delhi were attacked by the VHP during morning Mass.

Last Christmas, the VHP again attacked our churches and Christian homes in Orissa. Our people had to take refuge in nearby forests for about two weeks without anything to eat or drink. The children had to lick dew on leaves and some drank their own urine to survive. The government in Orissa doesn't care. They would not allow any of us (from Delhi) to reach out and help our suffering brothers and sisters.

Yesterday Swami Laxmanananda (who was re-converting Christians to Hinduism) was killed by Maoists. The VHP has put the blame for the killing on Christians. They are going on a rampage in Orissa. They have just attacked a Christian orphanage, injured the priest and burnt alive a sister. They have warned all Indian Christians to re-convert to Hinduism or face a similar fate.

Please pray that we might not fear but like Our Lord keep forgiving our brothers till the very end.

Swami Laxmanananda was killed Saturday, August 23. Since my last blog report on this situation, the death toll has risen from 11 to 14. Ask your fellow Catholics and Christians if they know of this situation. If they say yes, they are surely praying for the victims of such violence. If for some reason they do not know, tell them and ask them to pray.


Our old and battered school bus, after a brief tour of the current settlement for leprosy patients in Kalaupapa, started on its journey across the peninsula to Kalawao, the site where Blessed Damien, after almost 10 years on the island of Hawaii, first encountered patients when he arrived in 1873. The main village of Kalaupapa was, in fact, at Kalawao.

We will visit the church, Damiens tomb, the cemetery and nearby grounds tomorrow, but today I am going to share with you some of the exquisite beauty of Gods creation as we traversed this part of the peninsula to Kalawao. Here our group had a picnic lunch, walked around and reflected on all that we had just seen the church of St. Philomena, which Damien renovated when he came to Kalawao, the tomb of this intrepid and loving missionary, the ruins of one of the buildings of the first settlement for lepers, the base of the cliffs where a roaring sea crashed against the wall and where ships brought patients to the island for their lifetime exile.

As we began our journey, Keanini our driver pointed to the dirt road ahead of the bus and to what he called a Kalaupapa traffic jam! In fact, these were the only two cars we encountered throughout our drive to Kalawao

This is some of the indescribably beautiful scenery we saw along the way.

This is one of the many cemeteries on Kalaupapa though within the grounds there are hundreds and hundreds of unmarked graves.

We drive though what seemed like tropical forests and encountered many thickets of trees, woven into arches over our heads.

In the distance you can see the rock jutting out of the ocean that was a kind of lighthouse for the ships bearing leprosy patients to Kalawao: Once the sailors saw this rock, they knew this was where they would leave their patients. Once around the bend you see here, we would arrive at beautiful and yet tragic Kalawao.

Here you see Keanini, our driver and guide, as he relaxes on an old stone wall in front of the ruins of a building that was part of the original settlement at Kalawao in the 19th century

Keanini parked the bus near what he called the mixed marriage trees.

We saw a number of these unusual creations where a banyan tree wraps itself around a palm tree which continues to grow tall and stately in the midst of the banyans heavy roots and branches.

Maria and I stood for some time and looked at this stunning and breathtaking view a view that took our breaths away that day because of the beauty but a view that in 1873 took away the collective breaths of those sick people who landed there, knowing they would never again leave to return to their homes or loved ones.

How did Father Damien feel when he saw this rugged, magnificent beauty of nature that was such a contrast with the physical deformities and weakness of those condemned to live and die here? The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts Fr. Damiens congregation - have written a booklet entitled Damien, Servant of God, Servant of Humanity. In the chapter entitled The New Pastor, they wrote:

Here at Kalawao the young priest had opened the door to horror. There was nothing to protect his eyes, ears or sense of smell from the shock of contact with leprosy. Victims of the disease were all about him, their bodies in ruins, their faces ravaged and smashed by the voracious bacillus of leprosy. The constant coughing of the sick was the colonys most familiar sound. To counteract the bad smell, wrote Damien, I got myself accustomed to the use of tobacco. At the outset of his mission Damien aimed to restore, in each resident at Kalaupapa, a sense of personal worth and dignity. To show his poor battered flock the value of their lives, he had to demonstrate to them the value of their deaths. And so he turned his attention to the cemetery area beside his little chapel. He called it the Garden of the Dead.

Damien wrote about the cemetery to his brother, Pamphile, also a priest, whose place he took years earlier on the boat from Belgium to Hawaii because his brother was sick: My greatest pleasure is to go there to say my beads, and to meditate on that unending happiness which so many of them are already enjoying. There too my thoughts dwell on the sufferings of purgatory. I confess to you, my dear brother, the cemetery and the hut of the dying are my best meditation books, as well as for the benefit of my own soul as in view of preparing my instructions.

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