While visiting the Kalaupapa leper colony on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, I was deeply impacted by what I saw in the small, historic chapel on the cliffs of the infamous bay where lepers used to be thrown overboard.
There were holes in the floor.
Grotesquely disfigured lepers hid in the lush Hawaiian foliage, intently watching as Father Damien, a 33-year-old Catholic priest, arrived on the remote island of Molokai. It was 1873 and there was not yet a cure for the dreaded and highly infectious disease that was present in the islands of Hawaii. Heeding the call to come and serve, and eventually die with the lepers of Molokai, Father Damian left his native Belgium and arrived on the tropical shores.
On his first Sunday, Father Damien prepared for the service and with eager anticipation waited for the congregants to arrive, but only a few sat on the wooden pews. Mystified, Father Damien asked why more people were not there and was told that many of the residents of the leper colony had been embarrassed to attend. Due to losing feeling in parts of their bodies, they were unable to prevent themselves from drooling and did not want to expose themselves to ridicule or worse yet, anger from the newly arrived priest.
The following week Father Damien was seen to be hard at work in the small chapel and he encouraged everyone to attend mass that Sunday. When they arrived they noticed a curious sight. Large, tropical leaves had been picked and twisted into funnel shapes and were standing upright with their bases pressed through holes in the floor. Spittoons made of leaves. Up and down the rows in front of where the parishioners would be sitting, Father Damien had chiseled holes through the beautiful wooden floor of the chapel to make drains for his makeshift spittoons.
The comfort of the people was to Father Damien way more important than the beauty of the building. He disfigured the floor so that castaway people would experience welcome.
As I saw the holes in the floor and heard the history, I was profoundly moved and challenged by Father Damien's bold and creative act. This captures the heart of true hospitality.
- As I host people, are they more important than the mud prints they may leave on the carpet or the crumbs on the couch?
- Would I be willing to lay aside my pride, comfort or embarrassment to invite people home, even if my house is far from perfect?
What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments section below.
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