Pontiff Affirms Solidarity With Lepers

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 31, 2010 (Zenit.org).- As World Leprosy Day is marked across the globe, Benedict XVI affirmed his solidarity with those who still fall victim to this ancient disease.

The Pope mentioned today’s commemoration after he had prayed the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

«Our thoughts immediately turn to Father Damien de Veuster, who gave his life for these brothers and sisters, and whom I proclaimed a saint last October,» the Holy Father said. «To his heavenly protection I entrust all those people who, unfortunately still today, suffer from this disease, and all those health workers and volunteers who give themselves for the sake of a world without leprosy.»

Father Damien (1840-1889) was a Belgian priest who volunteered to minister to the leper colony in Molokai, in Hawaii. He eventually contracted the disease and died a leper.

Benedict XVI gave a special greeting to the Italian Association of the Friends of Raoul Follereau.

Follereau began World Leprosy Day in 1954.

In a letter to bishops and episcopal conferences for the 2010 commemoration of World Leprosy Day, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, noted that in 2009 more than 210,000 new cases of leprosy were recorded.

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