A fiftieth wedding anniversary always deserves recognition, but this one was truly gold. When Damien and Maria made their wedding vows fifty years ago they were under no illusions. Banished to an isolated leper colony in backwoods Paraguay, they were surrounded by crippled and disfigured fellow sufferers of the then-incurable disease. They asked each other if they would still love even when their fingers curled and their skin dried and cracked.

Today they laugh as they recall the first time their glances met. The joy they exude is remarkable, considering all they have suffered. In earlier years when they were healthier, medicines to treat the disease were donated to be distributed free to the patients. However, the corrupt colony administration required the patients to pay. By the time Damien and Maria were able to afford the medication it was too late; the damage to their bodies had been done. Yet Damien and Maria are not bitter. Seeing God in the nature surrounding them and in the stars, they say, has helped them find peace, hope, and the strength to forgive. And both express thankfulness for all the friends they have made over the years. “One who has friends is alive, but one with no friends is dead.”

Damien is a gifted craftsman, despite his crippled hands and twisted fingers. After careful observation of the sun, he carved a sundial out of a stone in his garden that accurately reads the hour, day, and month of the year. But now his eyesight is failing. On a last attempt at carving a wooden figure of Francis of Assisi, he accidentally cut off the saint’s fingers. “St. Francis was known as the friend of lepers, it’s appropriate he has no fingers,” he jokes. Unable to carve, he now contents himself with carefully tending a garden on the patch of dirt in front of the tiny wooden hut they call home. Maria is confined to a wheelchair with one leg amputated and is nearly deaf, but she shows no signs of self-pity. “She is the administrator of the house, and manages everything,” says Damien proudly.

The love between them is visible and tender. Damien says they have made it this far only through dialogue, never letting a day end without resolving their differences. Their failing hearing creates new challenges, but they often understand the needs and thoughts of the other instinctively without even talking. “Every day we love each other more, and understand each other better.”

The faithfulness of Damien and Maria despite all odds gives witness to a love that lasts; not a passing selfish infatuation but the love described in the well-known verse: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13: 4-7).

As well-wishers say their farewells, Damien jokes: “We’ll see you at our diamond wedding anniversary. I’ll be older then so I won’t eat as much.”