Cardinal calls for end to ‘burdensome stigma’ surrounding leprosy

A leper receives help in India
A leper receives help in India


Marking the 56th World Leprosy Day on Sunday, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán on Sunday delivered a speech praising efforts to care for leprosy victims and calling for an end to the “burdensome stigma” sometimes attached to their condition.

Cardinal Barragán addressed his remarks in a letter to the presidents of bishops’ conferences and to bishops responsible for pastoral care in health around the world. In his remarks, he called the observance of World Leprosy Day a “great appointment of solidarity” with those who are affected by leprosy, which is also known as Hansen’s disease.

According to the cardinal, who is President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, the disease strikes over 250,000 people each year, most of whom live in conditions of poverty. About 12 percent of all new cases are children under the age of 15.

Noting Christ’s love for children, the cardinal appealed to leaders of government organizations to pay special attention to children sick with leprosy who “run the risk of seeing their futures mortgaged by the negative consequences of their illness.”

The cardinal also cited the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child’s call to provide children with “the highest attainable standard of health” as a motive for anti-leprosy work.

Cardinal Barragán lamented persistent “unfounded fears” about Hansen’s disease, which he attributed to “ignorance.”

“These fears generate feelings of exclusion and often burdensome stigma towards who are afflicted by leprosy, making them especially vulnerable,” he said.

World Leprosy Day should offer correct information about the disease and its “devastating effects” while also encouraging “active fraternal solidarity,” the cardinal advocated.

“Basing itself on the example of Jesus Christ, the physician of bodies and souls, the Church has always dedicated special care to people afflicted by leprosy,” he explained. “Down the centuries it has been present through the institutions of Congregations of men and women religious, and through voluntary health-care organizations made up of the lay faithful, thereby contributing in a radical way to the full social and communal integration of such people.”

Cardinal Barragán praised Blessed Father Damian de Veuster, who ministered to leprosy patients in Hawaii, as “the untiring and exemplary apostle of our brothers” and “a lighthouse of faith and love.”

Father Damian is a symbol of all those who minister to leprosy patients today, the cardinal continued.

“These, together with Blessed Damian, are writing the most beautiful pages of the missionary history of the Church,” he said. “Inseparably linked to evangelization in their care for the sick, they proclaim that the redemption of Jesus Christ, and his salvific grace, reach the whole of man in his human condition in order to associate him to the glorious resurrection of Christ.”

Cardinal Barragán also lauded Raoul Follereau, the Catholic layman who founded and promoted World Leprosy Day. Follerau’s anti-leprosy work, the cardinal said, continues through the association Friends of Raoul Follerau.

“To him, and to those who follow him with the passing of time, goes an especial applause and our gratitude for the very many initiatives that they promote, which have the merit of always keeping alive care for those afflicted by Hansen’s disease, of sensitizing public opinion, and of stimulating people’s involvement in supporting programs and the gathering of financial resources,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Barragán closed with a prayer and an expression of concern for leprosy victims and those who dedicate themselves to their care:

“May the Immaculate Mother of God, ‘Salus Infirmorum’, intercede with her son Jesus, the ‘physician of bodies and souls,’ for the overall health of those with leprosy, and imbue those who care for them with a maternal spirit!”

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