“What is it with this attack on Catholic saints?” asked Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles in a recent video tweet, drawing attention to the attacks on statues of St. Junípero Serra up and down the California coastline, where the saint had preached; and the recent verbal assault on the statue of beloved St. Damien of Molokai, whose image is in Statuary Hall in our nation’s capitol. St. Damian’s statue was the recent subject of a blistering criticism by radical socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York (AOC), who was born into a Catholic family in New York (though that doesn’t guarantee that she practices the Faith, and, as a classmate recently reminded me, “Adolf Hitler was born into a Catholic family, too”).
Bishop Barron stated, “I just wanted to say something…to counteract what I think is just a colossally misguided attack on this enormously important figure, who I hope would be reverenced by anybody, of any race, of any background and any creed, and would see in (St.) Damien of Molokai nothing but a great hero.” “I think it’s time to get beyond these simplistic categories and start seeing people in their moral heroism.” Bishop Barron wasn’t alone in his criticism.
Dallas Carter, a native Hawaiian and a catechist for the Diocese of Honolulu, said, “Any Hawaiian….who is aware of their history — which most Hawaiians are — would absolutely, Catholic or not, defend the legacy of St. Damien as a man who was embraced by the people, and who is a hero to us because of his love for the Hawaiian people. We did not judge him by the color of his skin. We judged him by the love that he had for our people,” said Carter.
AOC picked the wrong statue to criticize. She’s probably not aware of the fact that the statue of the saint is a replica of one that stands outside the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu, that he spoke and preached in the Hawaiian language, that his feast day is a holiday in Hawaii, or that he is routinely named in lists of the most admired figures in modern Hawaiian history.
The official website of the office of the Architect of the Capitol praises St. Damien of Molokai’s selfless service: “On May 10, 1873, Father Damien traveled with Bishop Maigret and a shipload of lepers to Molokai. After two days Damien was willing to devote the rest of his life to the leper settlement. The bishop replied that he could stay as long as his devotion dictated. Father Damien accomplished amazing feats while residing on Molokai. Six chapels were built by 1875. He constructed a home for boys and later a home for girls. He bandaged wounds, made coffins, dug graves, heard confessions, and said Mass every morning. In December 1884, Father Damien noticed severe blisters on his feet without the presence of pain. As he suspected, the disease was leprosy. The bronze statue is based on photographs taken of Father Damien near the end of his life, with the scars of his disease visible on his face and his right arm in a sling beneath his cloak,” explains The Architect of the Capitol’s description. “His broad-brimmed hat was traditionally worn by missionaries. His right hand holds a cane.”
“The statue AOC objects to as a totem of white supremacy is a statue of a poor, sick immigrant social worker to the poor, whose work was honored by Hawaii’s native queen,” wrote the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney. “The statue was created by an immigrant woman feminist artist of color, and chosen by the people of the least white state of the union.” Carney called AOC’s words a “tirade,” noting that “as far as St. Damien being a “colonizer” — well, Hawaii was never a Belgian colony. He wasn’t there representing Belgium, either. He was there representing the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”
American Thinker’s Showalter referred to AOC as a “far-left wokester congresswoman” who had aimed an “amazing insult” at “Hawaii’s patron saint and most beloved figure of honor. What she was trying to do was pigeonhole the same flawed narrative of Confederate statues being unworthy to stand, based on the legacy of slavery, onto Hawaii’s beloved chosen saint,” observed Showalter. “[S]he was also trying to erase Hawaii’s history, a truly disgusting thing given the special state’s many worthy figures, and given how little people know of it. Now that it didn’t go over well, she’s saying nothing, expecting it will blow over. But it shouldn’t blow over,” said Showalter. “She owes the Hawaiians an apology and she’s not giving it.”
Father Damien died peacefully on April 15, 1889, on Molokai after 16 years of undaunted dedication. On October 11, 2009, Father Damien was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony at the Vatican, thus becoming Saint Damien. His feastday is observed on May 10th.