Cardinal Expresses Solidarity With Lepers

Says Hansen’s Disease Continues to Afflict Many

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2009 ( Although leprosy is an illness largely ignored in the media, it affects a significant number of people each year, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán said this in a message released ahead of the 56th World Leprosy Day, which will be observed Sunday. Raoul Follereau (1903-1977), a French writer and lawyer, initiated the world day in 1954.

In his message, the cardinal called the event “a great appointment of solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are afflicted by Hansen’s disease, a disease that is often ignored by the mass media but which still today strikes each year over 250,000 people, most of whom live in conditions of poverty.”

Cardinal Barragán cited World Health Organization that reported 254,525 new leprosy cases in 2007. Of those, 12% are children under 15.

“Unfortunately,” the cardinal said, “unfounded fears still persist that are generated by ignorance about Hansen’s disease. These fears generate feelings of exclusion and often burdensome stigma toward who are afflicted by leprosy, making them especially vulnerable.”

He affirmed that the world day is a “suitable opportunity to offer the human community correct, broad and capillary information about leprosy, about the devastating effects that it can have on people’s bodies if they are not treated.”

“The Church has always dedicated special care to people afflicted by leprosy,” Cardinal Barragán affirmed. “Down the centuries it has been present through the institutions of congregations of men and women religious, and through voluntary health care organizations made up of the lay faithful, thereby contributing in a radical way to the full social and communal integration of such people.”

The cardinal made a special mention of Blessed Damian de Veuster, “the untiring and exemplary apostle of our brothers and sisters afflicted by Hansen’s disease, a lighthouse of faith and love.”

He call Father Damien “the symbol of all those consecrated to Christ with religious vows who still today dedicate their lives to such people, making available all their resources for the overall well-being of those afflicted who are by leprosy in every part of the world.”

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