He moved to Kalawao – a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony.
For 16 years, he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity.
Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.
Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this, the people loved him.
Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: “We lepers….”
Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.
One day God came to Earth and began his message: “We lepers….” Now he wasn’t just helping us. Now he was one of us. Now he was in our skin. Now we were in it together.