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Sunday 28 January 2007


"Go and do likewise" (Lk 10: 37).

For the celebration of the 54th World Day for Those Afflicted by Leprosy, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care sent a message of hope and fraternal sharing to those afflicted with leprosy and those who, although they have recovered, bear in their bodies the consequent disabilities.

The considerable progress that medicine has made in this area in recent decades has generated in public awareness the idea that since this disease is curable, it must have been more or less stamped out in the world; thus, leprosy has become "a forgotten disease".

Unfortunately, however, the facts do not confirm this.

Data from epidemiological surveys by the World Health Organization (WHO), published in the first 10 days of August 2006, report that at the beginning of the year there were still 219,826 new persons sick with leprosy every year, about 602 cases a day, distributed in the world as follows:

Africa 40,830; America 32,904; Southeast Asia, 133,422; Eastern Mediterranean, 4,024; Western Pacific, 8,646; the total number of those afflicted with leprosy throughout the world amounts to about 10 million.

The fight against leprosy is fundamentally based on the preventive diagnosis "detection" of symptoms and on "poly-chemotherapy". These two procedures have led to an interesting decrease of 76,673 new cases of leprosy in comparison with the number of new cases in early 2005.

An effective fight against leprosy demands anti-leprosy services in the vicinity of the places where leprosy is rampant and must be able to rely on the intervention of the health-care workers in local centres who provide basic treatment.

Of course, in localities where conditions of access to health-care services are unfavourable and where an absence of prevention and hygiene goes hand in hand with on-going underdevelopment, Hansen's bacillus is endemic, and efforts for its total elimination are heavily impeded.

Countries where leprosy is endemic will nevertheless continue to receive free of charge the medicines of which "poly-chemotherapy" consists. The WHO guarantees that it will continue to reinforce its collaboration with both public and private health-care services for the prevention and treatment of leprosy patients.

The Church, which has always nursed these brothers and sisters of ours, asks all the faithful to share fraternally in the important service of the bodily recovery of the sick, and thereby to become authentic witnesses of the proclamation that "Christ the Doctor" is with them and for them for the "overall salvation" of every person.

This Pontifical Council renews to the faithful of Ecclesial Communities a pressing appeal to intensify the acquisition of the necessary information and consequently, to offer tangible signs of the brotherly sharing of their own possessions. This will be a help to all who are dedicated to serving our brothers and sisters afflicted with leprosy.

In particular, it will be important to send specialized health-care staff for an adequate period to assist the Missionaries and Women Religious involved in the prevention and cure of leprosy among the national populations where leprosy continues to be a risk.

Making Missionaries, Religious and Volunteers aware of our esteem and closeness is a practical response to the invitation that the Holy Father Benedict XVI expressed at the Audience he granted to those taking part in the "International Conference 2006" organized by our Dicastery.

"How can we forget the numerous people afflicted by infectious diseases who are forced to live in segregation and are sometimes humiliatingly stigmatized? These deplorable situations appear all the more serious in the social and financial disparity between the world's North and the South.

"It is important to respond to them with practical interventions that encourage closeness to the sick person by a more lively evangelization of culture and by proposing inspiring motives for the financial and political programmes of governments" (Address to Participants at the 21st International Conference on Health Care Sponsored by the Vatican, 24 November 2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 6 December, p. 15).

This is the invitation that Jesus offers us with the words of the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" (Lk 10: 37). It is with "Jesus the Good Samaritan" that we must evangelize the cultural context of the human society in which we live in order to eliminate prejudice against those who have tragically contracted leprosy.

The Church, always faithful to her mission, echoes the merciful act of the Divine Teacher, who by cleansing lepers showed that Redemption was being brought about (cf. Lk 7: 22). And on this path marked out by Jesus Christ, many people became personally involved.

Together with St Francis of Assisi, Bl. Damian de Veuster and Bl. Pietro Donders, the commitment of a vast number of anonymous "witnesses to God's merciful love" who freely chose to live "with and for" our brothers and sisters sick with leprosy is still perpetuated in our world today.

It is only right on this 54th World Day of Those Afflicted by Leprosy to remember, on the 30th anniversary of his death, Raoul Follereau, the man who established it in 1954, as an example and confirmation that God's love also involves those who humbly confess: "I do not know God, but I am known by him: in this lies our hope" (R. Follereau, Le livre d'amour, published by I.M.E., September 2005, p. 59, n. 35). Follereau prayed with these words: "Lord, I would so much like to help others to live, to help all my other brothers and sisters who are distressed and suffering without knowing why, waiting for death to set them free" (ibid., p. 58, n. 30).

To all Bishops, to those in charge of pastoral health care in the national Churches, to Health-Care Workers, Missionaries, Religious and Lay Volunteers involved in assisting our brothers and sisters afflicted with leprosy, I entrust this passage from the Holy Father Benedict XVI's Message for the 15th World Day of the Sick:

"Many millions of people in our world still experience unsanitary living conditions and lack access to much-needed medical resources, often of the most basic kind, with the result that the number of human beings considered "incurable' is greatly increased....

"I would like to encourage the efforts of those who work daily to ensure that the incurably and terminally ill, together with their families, receive adequate and loving care" (Message for the 15th World Day of the Sick [celebrated on 11 February 2007], 8 December 2006; ORE, 10 January, p. 7).

To you, my brothers and sisters who are ill with leprosy, to all whose bodies are marked by the sorrowful signs left by this disease, I would like to repeat the words of the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris: "On this Cross is the "Redeemer of Man', the Man of Sorrows, who has taken upon himself the physical and moral sufferings of the people of all times, so that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and valid answers to all of their questions.... We ask all you who suffer to support us. We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity" (n. 31).


Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán,
Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care