Wednesday 27 October 2010

St Damien of Molokai - Apostle of the lepers

Fr Damien De Veuster (1840-1889)
photographed three months before his death,
at the age of 49, after 16 years serving the lepers of Molokai

Since its foundation the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem has cared for those suffering from leprosy. Indeed it began by welcoming knights from other Orders who had been stricken by this disease. Those suffering from leprosy, or Hanson's Disease as it is now known, have always been at the heart of the mission and prayers of the Order.

Just over a year ago,on Sunday 11th October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica gave the entire Church a new Hero of Faith, when he canonised Father Damien De Veuster, the Leper Priest.

Father Damien, also known as the apostle of the lepers, was born in Belgium in 1840. At 33 he went to the island of Molokai, Hawaii, where lepers were sent and lived in isolation.

Depriving himself of everything, the priest stayed there serving, catechizing and administering the sacraments to those who had contracted this disease. He himself contracted it and died in 1899. He once said:
“Without the constant presence of our Divine Master upon the altar in my poor chapels, I never could have persevered casting my lot with the lepers of Molokai.”

The Holy Father began the homily at the Canonisation Mass by asking the question posed to Christ by a rich young man in the Gospel: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“The Divine Master looks at him with love,” the Holy Father continues, “and proposes the qualitative leap, he calls him to the heroism of sanctity, he asks him to abandon everything and follow him: ‘Sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me!’”

“This is the Christian vocation that flows from a proposal of love by the Lord, and that can be realized only thanks to our loving reply,” he said. “Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God.

“The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility. Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the centre, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel.”

Fr Damien “left his home in Flanders to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world, the Hawaiian Islands,” the Pontiff recounted. “His missionary activity, which gave him so much joy, reaches its summit in charity.

“Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who were there, abandoned by all; thus he exposed himself to the disease they suffered from. He felt at home with them. The Servant of the Word thus became a suffering servant, a leper with lepers, during the last four years of his life.”

"Let us remember before this noble figure that it is charity which makes unity, brings it forth and makes it desirable. Following in St Paul's footsteps, St Damien prompts us to choose the good battle, not the kind that brings division but the kind that gathers people together. He invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brethren and still today call for the charity of our presence as servants, beyond that of our generosity."

Following the Mass of Canonisation, the Holy Father went out into Saint Peter's Square to greet some forty thousand additional faithful who could not fit inside the basilica. He urged them to pray and help those involved in the battle against leprosy and "other forms of leprosy that are due to lack of love because of ignorance and cowardice".

St Damien's dedication to the outcasts of Molokai, his efforts to introduce new medical techniques, showed that he deeply valued the material side of life and bodily health. Yet he was more than a social worker. He shared his very life with those pariahs on the margins of the world, treating them with his own hands, not hesitating to touch them with love, until finally he became a leper himself and died from the disease.

With his life, and the celebrity that came his way, he put leprosy on the map. His contribution has been important in generating the energy needed to conquer the disease and eradicate it—a battle that still has not been entirely won. Above all, it showed something universal, something essential in Christianity: namely, that in love for the poorest, lived as self-giving until death, lies a road to salvation. Neither Islam nor Buddhism produces this kind of saint.

As we prepare to elect our 50th Grand Master next month, let us remember the origins of our noble Order and ask the intercession of the Apostle of the Lepers.

St Damien of Molokai pray for us and for the Order of St Lazarus.

Thursday 7 October 2010

The Order and the battle of Lepanto

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

In 1571 Pope St. Pius V instituted "Our Lady of Victory" as an annual feast to commemorate the victory of Lepanto. The victory was attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a rosary procession had been offered on that day in St. Peter's Square in Rome for the success of the battle.

The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Spain (including its territories of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Venice, the Papacy, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller and others, decisively defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire.

The five-hour battle was fought at the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the Holy League forces, which had come from Messina. Victory gave the Holy League temporary control over the Mediterranean, protected Rome from invasion, and prevented the Ottomans from advancing further into Europe. Lepanto was the last major naval battle fought almost entirely between oar-powered galleys, and has been assigned great symbolic importance since then.

This is of interest to us because among the armada of the Holy League was a squadron of galley ships of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem. The picture below shows a Galley ship (in the middle) flying the standard of the Order of St. Lazarus at the Battle of Lepanto in a detail from a painting “Madonna della Flotta” by A. Riccio which is in the Malta Maritime Museum.

As an Order of Christian chivalry we can be proud of the defence of Christendom which has been, and remains the aim of our noble Order.It was around this time that the Order adopted the motto ATAVIS ET ARMIS, still in use by the Order today.

New Members

Last weekend we had the joyful, and gracefilled, opportunity to welcome two new confreres into the Order. It was an honour for all the members to have the Grand Master Emeritus, HRH Charles-Philippe d'Orléans, Duc d'Anjou, preside over the service of Investiture.

Confrere Matthew Jackson BLJ

Matthew has been an esquire of the Order for several years. Among his many services for the Commandery, Matthew has been acting as the Secretary to the Commandery Council since 2008. He has also in the past helped to strengthen our International relations within the Order by representing the Great British Commandery on the OSLJ Pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2009 - in partnership with French Esquires and Demoiselles from the Commandery of Orléans. Having now "come of age" he has adopted the mantle as a Brother of the Order.

Confrere William Hackett BLJ

For some time now William has been actively suporting the charitable work of the Order by his tireless fundraising in Scotland. As a respected companion of the Commandery we are now delighted to welcome him to our ranks.

Both Confreres will be a great asset to the Order as we move forward in the coming years.


Tuesday 5 October 2010

October Investiture 2010

This has been a difficult year for the Order of St Lazarus. Internal tensions within the former Grand Magistery have resulted in many good members breaking away from the Temporal Protection of the Royal House of France to form their own Green Cross Organisation. This has been a cause of great sadness to us all and we must continue to pray that this rift can be healed and our noble Order made whole again.

In the light of recent events, many members of the Commandery of Great Britain arrived in Oxford last weekend for the investiture of postulants unsure of the way forward for the Order in the UK.

However, the weekend was wonderfully productive and helped to solidify the direction in which the Commandery wishes to go. We are hugely grateful for the continuing support of the Grand Master Emeritus HRH Charles-Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Anjou, who came to Oxford to perform the Investiture ceremonies. His inspiration and his genuine friendship have greatly enlivened our Commandery and were a timely reminder of the true values of the Order.

The Grand Master Emeritus reminded us that the Order of St Lazarus is not a social grouping, or an excuse to dress-up and wear medals, but is rather a noble Order of Christian Chivalry – we seek to build up the Kingdom of God through our charitable work. We seek to support one another in our efforts to live the Beatitudes. We seek to bring Christ to the world. As always, these values were expressed in our prayerful liturgies. The Vigil took place in the Church of St. Thomas the Martyr and the Investiture was held in the Oxford Oratory Church of St. Aloyosius. These occasions are a powerful reminder to all members of the duty “to embrace the values of chivalry and to participate in corporal works of mercy” which are the foundation of the Order. In our recent troubles this duty has often been overlooked. This weekend members have resolved to move beyond the unpleasantness of the past few months and the whole Commandery recommitted itself to the Order and it’s aims.

The presence of Prince Charles-Philippe was also a physical reminder of our strong relationship with the Royal House of France. It is of vital importance that the Order remains under the Temporal Protection of the Royal House of France. This historical link with our past is necessary to preserve the unity of the Order. Indeed, it is this Protection, first granted in 1308 by King Philippe IV, lost in 1830, and graciously restored in 2004 by HRH the Count of Paris: “guaranteeing as we do, in terms both of the law and of tradition, the authentic and unique character of this ancient Institution.” Without this Protection we would be but one among many groups styling themselves ‘the Order of St. Lazarus’. The Commandery of Great Britain has no wish to separate itself from “the authentic” and “unique” “ancient Institution.”

Following our Investiture weekend the Commandery of Great Britain could not be in better spirits. We are truly united under the inspiring leadership of the Baron of Fetternear. We are steadfast in our commitment to remain under the Temporal Protection of the Royal House of France, and are immensely proud of our deep friendship with the Grand Master Emeritus HRH Charles-Philippe d'Orléans, Duke of Anjou.

Most members of the Commandery will be travelling to the Chapter General, to be held in Orléans on 19-21 November 2010 when the 50th Grand Master will be appointed and installed. As with all international gatherings, it will be a time to strengthen the bonds of unity within the Order. Truly, the future looks very bright indeed for the Commandery of Great Britain and the whole Order as we enter a new chapter in the glorious history of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem.