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Home / News / Interview with Ruben Boon, Project Manager of Damiaan Vandaag (Damien Today) in Louvain, Belgium

Interview with Ruben Boon, Project Manager of Damiaan Vandaag (Damien Today) in Louvain, Belgium

“Damien’s identity was inclusive and a bridge to others”

 

"Connections. A harmonious vision of Damien" ("In verbondenheid. Een meerstemmige blik op Damiaan") How did the idea of writing this new book about Damien come to be?

The idea for this book arose during some research undertaken in 2016-2017 for the new permanent exhibition of the renovated Damien Museum in Tremelo. After that I did a lot of extra reading and researching sources before I started writing in 2020. I felt that “something” was missing in the vast majority of published Damien biographies (especially in Dutch), namely: the perspectives and voices of the Hawaiian people that Father Damien lived and worked with.

The new permanent exhibition in the Damien Museum in Tremelo and this biography on Damien share the same insights and tell the same stories. Of course, the book goes into more detail.

The title of the book speaks of Damien in relation to others and of him having a harmonious perspective. Are these the main characteristics you wish to highlight?

That's right. You cannot fully understand Damien without taking into account the contexts and circumstances in which he lived and the people he met and lived with. Furthermore, inspired by his faith and spirituality, Damien considered every person as his family, as brothers and sisters. He spoke about his family in Tremelo, for example, but also about his religious family in Leuven, Paris and Hawaii and his Hawaiian family. As we know, one doesn’t always get on well with all of the family members but Damien tried to and sought to strengthen the bonds between him and his numerous family members.

Damien sought to integrate himself into Hawaiian society. What would have been some of the key elements for his integration?

The key elements for true integration are authentic dialogue and deep engagement. Damien gained the trust of people by really listening, talking to them, sharing joys and sorrows and dedicating himself fully to people in need. Damien behaved like one of them. He was not arrogant but down to earth, humble and helpful. And Damien also had a lot of humour. This can help a lot in the process of being accepted and becoming part of a group or society.

Damien connected to the whole world, crossing boundaries of illness, culture and religion: what can we learn from him?

Damien had a strong faith and spirituality. It made him who he was. Moreover, his strong faith and spirituality, his strong identity was not an obstacle but a bridge reaching out to every person. His strong identity made him open to others, respectful and committed, even if those others did not share his faith and spirituality. This was a learning process for Damien, something he discovered for himself in his encounters with others.

What core Hawaiian values did Father Damien influence?

Damien embodied and practiced the following Hawaiian values: ohana (family, community), malama (care and respect), aloha (love and solidarity). He considered each person a family member to be taken care of and to be shown love and solidarity.

What aspects of Damien would you highlight for the post-pandemic world in which we find ourselves?

Damien didn't want to leave anyone alone or abandoned. He was deeply moved by the pain and sorrow of others. He let himself be touched by the people and sprang into action. He felt depressed and desperate on more than one occasion, but each time he found courage. He was aware of his own vulnerabilities and flaws, yet did everything he could to use his faith and talents to help anyone who asked for his help. That gave his life meaning.

To whom would you recommend the book?

I would like to recommend the book to anyone who wants to broaden and deepen their view on Father Damien, and who wants to look beyond the image of the hero and saint and (re)discover Damien’s personality in all its aspects. At the same time, the book can also be a first acquaintance and meeting with the figure of Damien. When reading, it is important to keep in mind that Damien was not a lone hero or saint but a person of flesh and blood who was in ongoing relationships with other people.

What has the research and writing of this volume brought to you personally?

The research and writing has brought me a lot of pleasure. I look at Damien with new eyes and I have rediscovered his rich personality through Hawaiian eyes and perspectives. I hope that I can now share and spread these insights with as many people as possible. This story in all its versatility has the power to continue to appeal and inspire worldwide.

 

 

07/16/2022