Tuesday 1 February 2011

Three heroes in the fight against leprosy

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski
President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers

The stark contrast between a cult of the body in some regions and a lack of the most basic health care in others is something that particularly affects lepers, says Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry affirmed this in his statement for the occasion of World Leprosy Day, celebrated last Sunday.

The archbishop cited Benedict XVI in referring to the lack of basic health care, saying this is a problem that "touches in a profound and special way the world of lepers."

Though leprosy can now be treated it continues to cause suffering

He said that "ignorance, inequality and discrimination" flourish around this disease, particularly in a failure to understand the need for timely treatment, deficiency in rehabilitation of those who are disfigured by the disease, and a lack of understanding that those who are healed no longer present a risk for spreading the infection.

The archbishop turned his appeal to past and present victims of leprosy, asking them to commit themselves in solidarity with those who suffer, and also to pray for those who "distance themselves calling you 'lepers!' without knowing or wanting to know your name, to recognize your dignity and your story."

Three Heroes

Archbishop Zimowski noted how in the history of the Church, there have been people committed to caring for lepers, to the point of sacrificing their own lives. He mentioned three notable persons in this group.

The first is Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger (1904-1991).

Archbishop Zimowski noted Benedict XVI's reference to the cardinal in his review of his trip to Cameroon, Africa, at the general audience of April 1, 2009.

"A powerful sign of the humanizing action of Christ's message is certainly the Cardinal Léger Centre in Yaounde, destined for the rehabilitation of disabled people. Its founder was the Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, who chose to retire after the Council of 1968, to work among the poor," the Pope said on that occasion.

Next, Archbishop Zimowski spoke of Belgian Saint Damian de Veuster (1840-1889).

St. Damian worked with lepers in Hawaii until he himself contracted and died from the disease. (See earlier post)

Finally, the Vatican official recalled Polish Blessed Jan Beyzym (1850-1912).

He worked among the lepers in Madagascar, "and even succeeded in building a specialized hospital on the island still active and able to house 150 patients," the archbishop said.

He cited Pope John Paul II's reflection in Krakow at the beatification of Blessed Beyzym: "The charitable work of Blesssed Jan Beyzym was an integral component of his fundamental mission: bringing the Gospel to those who do not know it. This is the greatest gift of mercy: bringing people to Christ and giving them the opportunity to know and savour his love."