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Damien makes headlines! (USA)

The Catholic and Democratic Congresswoman from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, recently criticised the statue of St. Damien of Molokai, known as the “Apostle to the Lepers” that is in the US Capitol, describing it as a symbol of "patriarchy".

In a 30 July Instagram story, the congresswoman questioned why there are not more statues honouring historic women on Capitol Hill, a place that highlights the legacy of figures from all 50 U.S. states.

"Even when we select figures to tell the story of colonised places, it is the stories of the colonisers that are told and almost no one else," she wrote next to a photograph of the holy apostle of Molokai.


In 1969, the state of Hawaii decided to honour St. Damien De Veuster along with KIng Kamehameha I in the national collection housed in the U.S. Capitol.


Ocasio-Cortez questioned the appropriateness of a statue honouring Damien rather than a statue honouring "Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawaii, the only queen to have ruled Hawaii". "This is not to dispute every single statue," she said, but rather a questioning of how the majority of the statues on Capitol Hill honour mostly white men.  "This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like," the congresswoman said.  "It's not radical or crazy to understand the influence that white supremacist culture has had historically on our culture and how it impacts today," she added.


Ocasio-Cortez's office told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that "there is a pattern that is repeated among all the statues on the Capitol: almost all of them are white men. Every individual can be valuable and moral, but deliberately erasing women and people of colour from our history is a result of the influence of patriarchy and white supremacy.

Dallas Carter, a native Hawaiian and a catechist in the Diocese of Honolulu, told CNA that Saint Damien "gave his life" serving the isolated leprosy colony on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai.  He went on to say "Any Hawaiian here who is aware of his history – and we Hawaiians are - would fully uphold, Catholic or not, Damien's legacy as someone who was embraced by many and who is a hero to us for his love of the Hawaiian people.  We don't judge him by the colour of his skin. We judge him by the love he had for our people."  The catechist recalled that the Hawaiian government at the time of Saint Damien "did not know how to deal with people suffering from Hansen’s Disease patients" and "no one wanted to deal with Kalaupapa”.  Carter said that Damien himself was afraid to serve the sick but "after a while, and this is very clear in his diary and in the writings of the Hawaiian people at that time, he felt in love with these people”.  Carter also informed CNA that Hawaiians love St. Damien and explained that the then queen Lili'uokalani, mentioned by Ocasio-Cortez, made the priest a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua in 1881, for his "efforts to alleviate the problems and mitigate the sorrows of the unfortunate”. The catechist further noted that Saint Damien of Molokai is the only holy priest of the Hawaiian Martyrology "who spoke the native language … He loved and embraced our culture … and thus "was part of our kingdom. He was one of us."




  • 1. Fr. David ha scritto il 08/03/2020 alle 15:45:

    The Congress representative from NY says many good things with which I agree. But unfortunately  on the subject of  Saint Damien she has missed the point. A position, far more nuanced is called for. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez  ought to distinguish the  mind-set of those who choose statues for Capitol Hill and the mind-set of Damien de Veuster. If one may be said -anachronistically-to be short-sighted by patriarchy, the same cannot be said for Damien. Damien first experienced the marginalizing effects of Hanson's Disease while working on the island of Hawaii (1864-1873) and was therefore fully conscient and  whole hearted in his dedication to the ostracized of society when he served 1873-1889 at Kalaupapa and Kalawao, Molokai. To study his biographers and his own letters is to marvel at his solidarity with those who suffered this terrible disease, fostered in the Sandwich Islands in those days through an earlier form of modern globalization. Far from a patronizing, patriarchal approach and progressively freed of  ideological biases,  Damien became one with those whom he humbly and skillfully served.  Representative Ocasio-Cortez  would in fact be greatly helped in her own praise-worthy mission to know the story of Damien in its context and its beneficial and long lasting effects on the whole world of those who are banished from society.

  • 2. Richard ha scritto il 08/01/2020 alle 20:38:

    I'm certainly glad you quoted Dallas Carter as well as the congresswoman from New York. I've known Dallas is a Catholic. I was unaware AOC was until I read it here.