April 15

Damien De Veuster, the leper priest
exiled himself on Molokai, the most
remote of Hawaiian Islands––
designated as quarantine––
to contain the contagion of leprosy,

its victims’ corpses left on the ground
to be consumed by dogs and pigs. Father
Damien reclaimed the land for burial,
to restore the dignity of those dead.

He and the colony built a church
to center community to replace hope-
lessness with joy in a sense of belonging.
He himself succumbed to the disease
and a century later was named a saint.

On his saint’s day, I bring him
the marginalized from mine and others’
families––the drunks, the junkies, the voiceless
ones, who carry a white and tattered banner

to announce they are coming, like Damien’s
congregants, their dignity restored
by recognition of their humanity,
by one man’s sacrifice of his life
that they might know the value of their own.

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