By Robin Gomes
The Vatican is urging the international community not only to help eliminate Hansen’s disease but also to end the stigma, discrimination and prejudice attached to it by treating those hit by it with love, compassion and solidarity.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, made the call in a message on the occasion of 66th World Leprosy Day, marked on Sunday, January 27.
“The theme for this year’s World Leprosy Day, “Ending discrimination, stigma, and prejudice,” teaches us clearly that one of the most critical needs in the lives of those experiencing this devastating disease is love,” the cardinal wrote.
He noted that over 200,000 new cases of Hansen’s disease or leprosy are reported annually, with 94% of them in 13 countries, striking especially the neediest and poorest people. Hence, as Pope Francis said, it is important to keep solidarity alive with these brothers and sisters who are disabled as a result of this disease.
Love and compassion
Even though the multidrug therapy (MDT) and skilled clinical service have proven effective in addressing this illness, Card. Turkson noted, “no institution can by itself replace the human heart or human compassion when it is a matter of encountering the suffering of another.”
The Ghanaian cardinal the cited the approach of Jesus, the Divine Physician, who heals not from a distance but by drawing near, coming in direct contact with and touching the person with leprosy.
As models of this, he pointed to the 19th century St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai and St. Francis of Assisi who cared for and kissed the person with leprosy. Both of them saw in the lepers the figure of Christ crucified. “Every true encounter,” the cardinal said, “has the power to restore life and hope.”
Card. Turkson urged the fight against Hansen’s disease and the stigma, discrimination and prejudice attached to it, by cooperating and collaborating with government agencies and NGOs in helping the complete integration of the person in all of his or her bodily and spiritual dimensions.