"A special greeting to the Italian Association of Friends of Raoul Follereau!" said Pope Benedict, waving to representatives of the group who held aloft a banner in the Square below.
Members of the group represent an initiative started by French-born writer Raoul Follereau, who was first introduced to the ravages of leprosy after he was sent on assignment to the Sahara in 1936.
According to a biography from the Association's Italian branch, upon encountering "leprosy-affected persons" there for the first time, he was so moved that he became a lifetime advocate for those who suffered from the disease.
Follereau gave 1,200 conferences worldwide on leprosy in the following ten years alone, wanting to free victims from the “segregation” and the stigma of the disease. He visited and befriended them to promote the idea that “leprosy-affected persons are human beings."
The overall objective of his international efforts for 40 years was to raise awareness about the poverty, injustice and indifference which worsened the victims’ plight.
In his message to observe the World Day for Leprosy of 2010, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Ministry, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, also recognized "individual and collective poverty" as the underlying causes of the perpetuation of leprosy today.
Branches of the Association of Friends of Raoul Follereau are present in 23 countries on three continents and have observed the last Sunday of January as the World Day for Leprosy since it was established by their founder in 1954.
Pope Benedict also remembered recently canonized St. Damien of Molokai after the Angelus and entrusted the care and protection of the sick and those that care for them "so that a leprosy-free world can exist."
.- In a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father recognized the World Day for Leprosy on Sunday. After the Angelus, he sent a special greeting to a delegation from a local Italian chapter of an international association working for the eradication of the disease.