The healing art of giving
It’s fitting that this health and fitness section comes amid the canonization of Blessed Damien de Veuster, the missionary priest famed for his work with leprosy patients in Hawaii.
Blessed Damien, a Belgian-born member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, is renowned for having spent the last 16 years of his life ministering to patients with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. At that time, in the mid-19th century, lepers were considered outcasts and leprosy was an incurable disease.
After contracting the disease himself, he experimented on himself with new treatments. He was, as he wrote, “at one with the lepers.” Following his death at the age of 49 five years later, centers were established in his name for patients with leprosy and, in more recent years, HIV and AIDS. Many hope he will be named the patron saint of those with HIV/AIDS and leprosy.
Blessed Damien embodied a favorite theme of Pope Benedict: that Christianity is not merely a “moral code” or a set of rules, but a religion that embodies love of God and neighbor.
Although the Diocese of Dodge City is far from an island leper colony, one does not have to look far to find those who, in some small and not so small way, have made a difference in the lives of those experiencing health struggles.
Back in May of 2006, Father John Strasser became a member of the Red Cross Century Club when he donated his 100th unit of blood -- or more than 12 gallons.
Since then, he’s given blood another 14 times.
For his generous giving, Joan Hendrickson, chapter manager of the American Red Cross, presented Father Strasser in 2006 with a “Century Club” certificate.
Father Strasser told the Register that he began donating blood when he was in his early 20s while attending St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.
“At the time, my mother was a nurse at St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City,” he said. “Several times I heard her mention that following an accident, emergency surgery was delayed due to a shortage of blood. The hospital had to wait for blood to be flown into the local airport and then be transported by highway patrol to the hospital before surgery could begin. I thought to myself, ‘I can do something about that,’ and I began to donate blood.”
And then there’s Rudy Valenzuela. When the SKR interviewed him back in 2002, Rudy was serving as a volunteer at St. Catherine Hospital and Emmaus House in Garden City.
He was hard to miss. Quick to smile and always ready to share a laugh, Rudy could often be seen pushing a cart of magazines down the hall, delivering reading material, and a bit of friendly joy, to the patients.
And the fact that Rudy had, at the time of the interview, recently turned 102, left all those who met him in a state of awe.
“You see it in their faces,” said the great-great-grandfather of eight, who has since died. “The ladies are best. I ask if they’d like a magazine, and they say, ‘Oh, my goodness, yes.’ They answer with their whole heart. That’s the truth.”
After his wife died 20 years earlier, he said he was compelled to seek volunteer work.
“Three days after she died, I was offered a job at Emmaus House,” he said. “It helped me more than I helped anyone else. Seeing people’s faces when I handed them a magazine or a box of food, that’s what told me this was my job.”
There’s Sister Rose Mary Stein, who each year offers her time on a mission serving those in need -- whether it’s the elderly of Colorado, American Indians of Oklahoma, or the poorest of the poor in Africa.
There’s Deacon Gil Rael and his wife, Jo of Great Bend, who have provided spiritual guidance and support to many people who are suffering emotional and sometimes physical trauma due to abuse. They, like so many others, serve those in need at crisis centers across the diocese.
There’s Sister Virginia Pearl who brings spiritual guidance to those at the Larned State Hospital and the Larned Correctional Mental Hospital. And Sister Janice Thome, who has helped countless immigrants struggling to survive in a new land to find needed care.
And there are countless others who serve in some small and not so small ways, but always making a big difference in the lives of those who need it the most.
-- David Myers and Catholic News Service contributed to this article.