by Steven D. Greydanus
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Based on Hilde Eynikel’s biography of Blessed Fr. Damien de Veuster, Molokai: The Story of Father Damien tells the edifying, at times wrenching story of the 19th-century “Apostle to the Lepers,” who for fifteen years lived and finally died in a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i.
A native of Belgium, ordained in Honolulu, at the age of 33 Fr. Damien volunteered to become the first and only priest serving the leper colony. There he spent himself attending as best he could to the people’s needs, both spiritual and physical, offering the sacraments but also dressing wounds, helping to shelter them from the elements, even constructing coffins and digging graves.
This inspiring, episodic biopic depicts Fr. Damien (David Wenham, Peter Jackson’s Faramir in The Lord of the Rings) as a man consumed by a singular sense of duty and obligation, lacking any thought but the spiritual and temporal good of those in his care and the good of his own soul. To church and state leaders in O’ahu he ceaselessly campaigns for more funds and medicine, nuns to help with the care of the sick, and for more frequent confession for himself.
In one of the film’s neatest exchanges, all three of Damien’s issues come together in a single stroke: Told that conditions on Moloka’i are too harsh to permit nuns, Damien protests that the settlement seems a veritable paradise whenever he asks for money — an argument that prompts a disapproving diocesan official to criticize Damien for lack of humility, to which Damien retorts that he will mention in his next confession!
Often compared to Mother Teresa, Damien differs from the nun of Calcutta in at least one important respect: He is openly and unapologetically evangelistic, zealously striving to bring those to whom he ministers to the Catholic faith and the sacraments. In this he is not always successful, and some of the film’s best scenes involve Peter O’Toole as a drily ironic, tenacious Anglican patient who resists Damien’s best efforts to offer him the sacraments. . . .
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