MESSAGE OF THE PRESIDENT
Sunday 27 January 2013
A ‘fitting occasion for intensifying the service of charity’(1)
On 27 January 2013 we will celebrate the sixtieth World Day for the fight against leprosy, a malady that is as old as it is grave when we consider the suffering, the social exclusion and the poverty that Hansen’s disease involves. This event constitutes for all Christians, for institutions and agencies providing aid and help, and for men and women of good will, a valuable opportunity to relaunch their efforts in favour of those who are directly afflicted by Mycobacterium Leprae or are indirectly affected by it, such as family relatives, promoting a renewed drive for the social integration of those people who bear its marks. According to the most recent data of the WHO, about 220,000 people – men, women and children – contracted leprosy in 2011 and many of these new cases were diagnosed when the disease was at an advanced stage. These data demonstrate the continuation – notwithstanding the praiseworthy action of international and national, governmental and non-governmental, institutions, such as the WHO and the Raoul Follereau Foundation and the Sasakawa Foundation – of a still insufficient level of access to centres that offer diagnoses and of a lack of education as regards prevention in communities that run the risk of contagion, as well as the need for specifically designed medico-hygienic initiatives. All of this is fundamental in the case of leprosy, which by now does not lead to death if it is suitably treated, as it is the case, to a greater extent, of the other ‘neglected diseases’ which taken together every year continue to cause hundreds of thousands of victims through deaths, grave forms of disability, or anyway the permanent compromised state of health of adults, adolescents and children, in disadvantaged countries. These are pathologies that constitute authentic scourges in some parts of the world but which do not receive sufficient attention from the international community; amongst these pathologies we find dengue fever, sleeping sickness, bilharziosis, onchocerciasis, leishmaniasis and trachoma.
In the face of such a health-care emergency, in the light of the Year of Faith as well, and with the wish to commit ourselves increasingly intensely, as Catholics, to carrying out what Jesus requested by his commandment ‘Euntes docete et curate infirmos’ (Mt 10:6-8) and by our baptism, I wish to renew my invitation to work to ensure that this Sixtieth World Leprosy Day constitutes a new ‘fitting occasion for intensifying the service of charity in our ecclesial communities, so that each one of us can be a good Samaritan for others, for those close to us’.(2) May the example of Saints, Blesseds and people of good will, such as St. Damian of Molokai SS.CC. and St. Marianne Cope O.S.F.; the Blessed Jan Beyzym S.J. and the Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity; the Servant of God Marcello Candia and Raoul Follereau, the one hundred and tenth anniversary of whose birth also takes place this year, inspire us and sustain us in bringing help and comfort to these sick brothers and sisters of ours, to the least and the most marginalised!
I thank divine Providence that I was able personally, last year, to visit both the island of Molokai, where St. Damian and St. Marianne worked, and Madagascar, where the Blessed Jan Beyzym worked. These are places rich in humanity and faith where I was able to meet people afflicted by leprosy and I was able to pray for all of you sick people and for the people who are close to you.
An equally important role should also be played by all those people who are victims of leprosy, who are called to cooperate in the establishment of a more inclusive and just society that will allow the integration of those people who have been cured of leprosy; in spreading and promoting its forms of diagnosis and treatment; in stressing the need to receive therapies so as to be cured, thereby contributing to a weakening of the disease; and in spreading in the contexts to which they belong those medico-hygienic criteria which are indispensable in hindering its further propagation. As a Christian, a person who has been afflicted by leprosy also has the possibility of living his or her condition in a perspective of faith, ‘finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love’,(3) praying and offering up his or her suffering for the good of the Church and humanity. In awareness that what has been emphasised is certainly not easy, and requires charity towards themselves and their neighbours, hope, courage, patience and determination, I would like to observe, employing the words of St. Paul, that none of us ‘received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear’: we ‘received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, "Abba, Father!"’. And, ‘if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him’ (Rom 8:15-17). Even in the most adverse situations, a Christian is certain that ‘nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:39).
Lastly, while thanking all those who have striven so much, and strive so much, in the fight against leprosy, I address my most fervent prayer to the Virgin Mary, Salus Infirmorum, so that all suffering people may find relief and support in their relationship with God and in the action of the very many people who dedicate their lives to them.
With my nearness, prayers and blessing.