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"A Forgotten Disease"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the message issued by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry on the occasion of the 54th World Day of Leprosy, to be observed next Sunday.

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Sunday 28 January 2007

"'Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37)

For the celebration of the 54th World Day of Leprosy, the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry sends a message of health and fraternal sharing to those who are afflicted by leprosy and to those people, even though they have been healed, who bear on their bodies disabilities caused by this malady.

The notable advances that medical science has developed in this sector over recent decades have generated in the social mind the idea that this disease, because it can be cured, has almost disappeared in the world; in this way leprosy has become "a forgotten disease."

But unfortunately such is not the case. The data derived from the epidemiological surveys of the World Health Organization, which were published in early August 2006, indicate that at the beginning of that year there were still 219,826 new cases of leprosy every year and about 602 new cases every day. These were distributed geographically in the following way: Africa, 40,830; America, 32,904; South East Asia, 133,422; the East Mediterranean, 4,024; the Western Pacific, 8,646. Overall, those afflicted by leprosy in the world are still about ten million in number.

The fight against leprosy is fundamentally based upon a preventive depistage of cases and "polychemotherapy." This tandem involved a significant decrease of 76,673 new cases since the beginning of 2005. An effective fight against leprosy requires that in those areas where leprosy is at work, anti-leprosy services be able to rely upon the role of providers of primary health care services in health centers of the region. It is certainly the case that where the environmental conditions for access to health care services are not very favorable, and an absence of prevention and hygiene is to be observed (as well as a persistent under-development), Hansen's bacillus becomes rooted and projects that aim at its total elimination are strongly obstructed. However, those countries where leprosy is endemic continue to receive for no charge those drugs and medicines that make up the poly-chemotherapy for this affliction. The World Health Organization assures the world that it will continue to strengthen cooperation with those public and private health care institutions that dedicate themselves to the prevention of leprosy and to care and treatment for people who have leprosy.

The Church, which has always cared for these brothers and sisters of ours, invites all the faithful to fraternally share in the great service of the recovery of sick bodies, thereby making themselves authentic witnesses to the message that "Christ the Physician" is with them, and for them, to achieve the "overall salvation" of every person. This Pontifical council renews its insistent appeal to the faithful of ecclesial communities to intensify the acquisition of necessary information and thus offer tangible signs of the fraternal sharing of their goods. This will be of help to those who have consecrated themselves to service to our brothers and sisters who are afflicted with leprosy. Of particular importance is the sending out of specialized health care personnel who, for a congruous period of time, can bring help to missionaries and to religious consecrated to the prevention and treatment of populations in countries that are subject to the risk of leprosy.

To make missionaries, religious and volunteers feel our personal esteem and nearness is to respond in a concrete way to the invitation that the Holy Father Benedict XVI expressed at the audience granted to those taking part in the International Conference of 2006 of our Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry: "How can one forget the very many people with infectious diseases forced to live segregated from others, and who are at times marked by a stigma that humiliates them? Such deplorable situations are of greater gravity when we consider the disparity of social and economic conditions between the North and the South of the world. It is important to respond to them with concrete interventions that favor nearness to the sick person, thereby making the evangelization of culture more alive, and propose motivations that can form the basis for the economic and political programs of governments" (Nov. 24, 2006).

This is the invitation that Jesus makes to us with the parable of the Good Samaritan: "Go then, and do you likewise" (Luke 10:37). It is with "Jesus the Good Samaritan" that we must evangelize the cultural environment of the human society in which people live in order to eliminate the prejudices that still exist in relation to those who are dramatically afflicted by leprosy.

The Church, faithful to her mission, has always repeated the merciful action of the Divine Teacher who, during the act of healing lepers, indicated that Redemption was underway (cf. Luke 7:22). And it is on this way opened up by Jesus Christ that so many people have walked. Side by side with St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Damian de Veuster, and Blessed Peter Donders, a vast number of anonymous 'witnesses to the merciful love of God', who have freely chosen to live 'with and for' our brothers and sisters afflicted by leprosy, continue their activities today.

It is incumbent upon us, on this 54th World Day of Leprosy, to remember Raoul Follereau, the man who instituted it in 1954, on the 30th anniversary of his death. Raoul Follereau was an example and confirmation that the love of God also involves those who humbly confess: "I do not know God but I am known by him, and this is hope" (R. Follereau, Le livre d'amour, I.M.E., September 2005, p. 59, n. 35). Follereau was a man who prayed as follows: "Lord, I would very much like to help others to live, everyone else, my brothers and sisters, who are in pain and suffer without knowing why, waiting for death to free them" (ibid., p. 58, n. 30).

To all bishops, those responsible for pastoral care in health in the local churches, health care workers, missionaries, religious, and secular volunteers involved in the accompanying of our brothers and sisters afflicted by leprosy, I entrust this passage from the message for the 15th World Day of the Sick of the Holy Father Benedict XVI: "In addition, 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. Here 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."

To you, brothers and sisters afflicted by leprosy, and to those who bear on your bodies the painful signs left by this disease, I wish to repeat the words of the apostolic letter "Salvifici Doloris" of John Paul II: "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.... And 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" (No. 31).

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán
President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry

[Translation issued by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. Text adapted here.]

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Leprosy, Disease, Health, Life, Ministry

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