By Vatican News staff reporter
Pope Francis expressed his closeness to all those who suffer from Hansen’s disease – better known as leprosy – on World Leprosy Day, which is observed each year on the last Sunday in January to increase public awareness of the condition.
The Holy Father also offered words of encouragement to missionaries, health workers, and volunteers committed to serving those affected by the disease.
In his remarks, Pope Francis noted that the Covid-19 pandemic “has confirmed the need to protect the right to health for those who are most fragile.” He said he hopes “that the leaders of nations will unite their efforts to treat those suffering from Hansen’s disease and for their social inclusion.”
The theme for this year’s observance is “Beat Leprosy.” In a Message to mark the Day, Cardinal Peter Turkson said, “This noble aim begins with the medical reality that leprosy is a curable disease; but beating leprosy involves more than a mere medical struggle. It also seeks to eliminate the social stigma that accompanies this difficult illness and ultimately envisions the restoration of the human person in an integral way.”
Recalling an account of Jesus healing a leper from the Gospel of St Luke, the Prefect for the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human development noted that in addition to physical healing, the Lord also “applies the salve of human dignity.” He said, “When the Church speaks of God’s generous offer of salvation, that gift is both universal and integral. God desires to heal all people and the whole person.” The Cardinal noted that integral health involves the personal and social dimension, as well as both the physical and spiritual nature of the individual.
Cardinal Turkson concluded his message by expressing his “sincere respect and gratitude to all who dedicate themselves to ‘beat leprosy’ and offer healing and hope to those who suffer from Hansen’s disease.” They show us, he said, “in very practical ways, that leprosy is curable, that human encounter can eliminate stigma, and that mental well-being is an essential part of integral health.”