January 29, 2010

New book chronicles life of Fr. Damien of Molokai through his companions’ eyes

By Katherine Haas

“Father Damien… ‘A Bit of Taro, a Piece of Fish, and a Glass of Water.’” Law, Anwei Skinsnes. Seneca, NY: IDEA Center for the Voices of Humanity, 2009.  ISBN 978-0-9802123-0-3. $25.

The quote on the back of the book reads, “He was my spiritual father and my friend.” The book itself is a rich journey into the island of Molokai during the time when Hawaiian law forcefully separated people suspected to have leprosy from their families. “Father Damien… ‘A Bit of Taro, a Piece of Fish, and a Glass of Water’” offers a unique perspective into the life of the Belgian saint who gave his life to the people of Hawaii affected by leprosy.

The book itself is an easy read. It is more like a coffee table book than a novel. Perhaps one of its greatest assets is the quantity of pictures dating back to Fr. Damien’s ministry. Though the book is rich in quotes and description, seeing pictures of the people Fr. Damien worked with, the church he built with his own hands, and the stark reality of the lack of amenities on the island puts not only a truer perspective on the situation but sheds more light on the life and dedication of Fr. Damien.

That’s not to say that the text is less absorbing. Whereas other books on the life of the recently canonized saint have more biographical information, or delve more deeply into his spiritual life or personal history, this book is unique in its close ties to the people who lived and worked with Father Damien. Those who are not still alive speak through the written words they left behind. But one of the most exciting things is to read the accounts of the children who were sent to Kalaupapa, on the island of Molokai, while Father Damien was still alive.

For those who do not know the story of this Belgian missionary to Hawaii at the end of the nineteenth century, the book is a good introduction. It succeeds in presenting not only Father Damien, but the people afflicted with leprosy to whom he ministered, in a kindly yet humanist light. While the book may not be a must read of every Catholic, it is a touching read for anyone who is interested in the story of Father Damien of Molokai, or for those who are looking for an inspiring story about a saint who gave his life in ministry to the least of men.

The book is available for $25, which includes shipping, from IDEA.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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