Message for 58th World Leprosy Day

«To Unite Our Efforts to Express Better Justice and Love Toward Lepers»

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 31, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the message that Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, published for the 58th World Leprosy Day, which was celebrated last Sunday. The message is titled «To Unite Our Efforts to Express Better Justice and Love Toward Lepers.»

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1. In his message last November to the 25th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, titled «‘Caritas in Veritate’: For Equitable and Human Health Care,» Benedict XVI stressed how «in our time» we witness «on one hand an attention to health that risks being transformed into pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism, becoming almost a cult of the body and, on the other hand, the difficulty of million of people to access conditions of minimal subsistence and to drugs that are indispensable for their cure.» It is a problem that touches in a profound and special way the world of lepers, and this 58th World Leprosy Day is, in fact, the occasion to express «closeness and solidarity to all those suffering from this disease and of illnesses that disfigure the body leading to an almost incurable state of marginalization.»

World Leprosy Day is an event that constitutes at the same time a moment of reflection to stress and express gratitude for the commitment of millions of workers, professionals and volunteers, of the world of health, of society, of politics and of information who have helped and help lepers. They do so by offering the possibility of a timely diagnosis and then, as the Good Samaritan, giving the possibility of care but also the means of survival and sustenance to those who find themselves with a future strongly compromised by disability and the disfigurement that the disease inflicts. Hence, continued the Holy Father in his message, bending down «to the wounded man, abandoned on the edge of the road,» they carry out that «greater justice» that Jesus asks of his disciples and acts in his life, because «love is the carrying out of the Law.» Among the persons and organizations of good will to which we wish to address particular thanks for their commitment to the sick with leprosy, is the Raoul Follereau Foundation, a reality that, flowing from the sensibility, charity and ability of its founder, has continued the work also supporting the celebration of this World Day that, in two years, will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its institution.

2. Leprosy, in fact, after the upgrading of effective pharmacological therapies, witnessed a notable reduction of the lethal infection, but continues to cause suffering, diminution and social exclusion. Flourishing around it are ignorance, inequality and discrimination that, in turn, fuel its diffusion. This occurs through the inability to understand the importance of a timely clinical approach and access to eventually present health services; the absolute impossibility for some populations and communities to enjoy an even minimal health service, marginalization and the consequent drastic impoverishment of family nucleuses where a first case of infection is verified. From a health and social point of view the lack of structures either for early diagnosis of the infection or social and job reinsertion of persons who are healed but still mutilated by the Hansen’s bacillus remains dramatic. Promoted moreover in a still more diffuse and widespread way is the education of communities and populations so that they understand that whoever is cured no longer presents a threat of infection for others and should be helped in reinsertion.

It is because of this that we also ask you, past and present victims of leprosy, to commit yourselves to solidarity, to pray for the good of those close to you, of those who need relief, but also for the salvation of those who ‘feast’ closing the door to the needs of others. To those who distance themselves calling you «lepers!», without knowing or wanting to know your name, to recognize your dignity and your story. And yet «also in the field of health, as an integral part of each one and of the common good, it is important to establish a true distributive justice that guarantees to all, on the basis of objective needs, adequate care. Consequently, the world of health cannot exempt itself from the moral rules that must govern it so that it does not become inhuman,» stressed Benedict XVI. As underlined in the encyclical «Caritas in Veritate,» «the Social Doctrine of the Church has always evidenced the importance of distributive justice and social justice in the different sectors of human relations. Justice is promoted when the life of the other is accepted and responsibility for him is assumed, responding to his expectations, because in him the very face of the Son of God is accepted, who became man for us. The divine image imprinted in our brother is the foundation of the lofty dignity of every human person and awakens in each one the need of respect, of care and of service.»

3. Again on the occasion of this 58th World Day it is right to recall how in the history of the Church there have been persons who have been very committed to the point, in many cases, of sacrificing their own life for the victims of Hanson’s disease. One of the most recent, in temporal terms, is Canadian cardinal Paul Emile Leger. «A strong sign of the humanizing action of Christ’s message is, without a doubt, the Cardinal Leger Center of Yaounde» (Cameroon), stressed Benedict XVI during the general audience of April 1, 2009, in St. Peter’s Square. «The founder was Canadian Cardinal Paul Emile Leger, who wished to retire there, after the council, in 1968,» said the Holy Father, «to ‘work’ among the poor, lepers and bearers of disabilities.»

Staying between the 19th and 20th centuries, we wish then to recall the Belgian St. Damien de Veuster of the Congregations of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who worked in Molokai (Archipelago of Hawaii, USA). «His missionary activity that,» stressed His Holiness Benedict XVI on the occasion of the canonization of Damien de Veuster, held in 2009, «gave him much joy,» reaching «its culmination in charity. […] The servant of the Word thus became a suffering servant, a leper among lepers, during the last years of his life.»

Also Polish Blessed Jan Beyzym of the Society of Jesus who, beatified in 2002 by the Venerable Pope John Paul II, dedicated himself to the victims of leprosy, in his case in Madagascar, and even succeeded in building a specialized hospital on the island still active and able to house 150 patients. His life was distinguished by profound faith, Samaritan concern for the poorest of the poor. He combined in his life evangelization with the defense of the dignity of the human being, son of God. Of profound Marian faith, he dedicated the hospital he founded to Our Lady of Czestochowa. «The charitable work of Blessed Giovanni Beyzym,» affirmed the Venerable John Paul II during the ceremony of beatification of the Jesuit Father, held in Krakow in 2002, «was inscribed in his fundamental mission: to take the Gospel to those who did not know it. This is the greatest gift of mercy: to take men to Christ and to allow them to know and taste love.»

Let us entrust to Our Lady Most Holy, Salvation of the Sick and Consoler of the Suffering, all the sick with leprosy and all those who look after them.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski
President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers

[Translation by ZENIT]
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