The Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, together with several Foundations, has organized an International Congress titled “Towards Holistic Care for People with Hansen’s Disease, Respectful of Their Dignity,” which will be held in Rome on June 9-10.
During the press conference to present the event today, Monsignor Jean-Marie Mupendawatu, the dicastery’s secretary, stressed the need to study the situation and to promote its prevention as well as to supply information, such as assistance to affected individuals, assuring them of eventual social reintegration. He also specified that more than 230 researchers, volunteer workers, professionals and former patients from more than 45 countries around the world will take part in the Congress. All of them will be present next weekend for the Jubilee of the Sick, which will end on Sunday in Saint Peter’s Square with a Mass presided over by the Pope.
For his part, Father Augusto Chendi, M.I., under-secretary of the dicastery, mentioned that in her 2,000 years of history, the Church has never failed to be at the side of sick individuals, especially those suffering from leprosy. Therefore, this Congress hopes to “propose again Jesus’ gesture, namely, ‘to touch’ the complex reality of individuals affected by leprosy.” It is a very ancient and feared disease that forced, and sadly still does today, on those who suffer it such marginalization, which causes their social death even before the physical, he specified. He also explained that, with a renewed awareness of the different problems that leprosy patients endure, the Congress hopes to propose again the simple gesture of “touching” and “receiving.”
In fact, the under-secretary noted that today, although the disease is perfectly curable, often it continues to be accompanied by a heavy social stigma: individuals that suffer it, even when they are completely cured, are regarded as “different” and socially marginalized.
Father Chendi added that leprosy continues to spread among the poor of the less developed countries, who also have the greatest difficulty to access care.
In this connection, he said that the commitment against leprosy must not be limited to the medical dimension, but that for individuals directly affected, as well as for their families, it must also entail the social aspects, in order to “eliminate in so far as possible, the profound causes of the sickness,” namely, poverty and under-development, singling out and taking early care of individuals that suffer the disease, and informing and educating the people to do away with the social stigma, unfortunately still very rooted and persistent.
In this same line, he explained how the Church, without emphasis and without seeking notoriety, has developed a task not only of care but also of “solidarity” and “tenderness,” as well criticism of the social stigma.