I saw people without hands, legs, eyes, faces...
We are celebrating the World Day for Those Afflicted by Leprosy on the last Sunday of January. The Day was initiated by the great humanist of the 20th century Raoul Follereau. This is a special occasion to remind the whole world that there are still people suffering from the most horrible disease that the world knows in the poorest regions of the world. This happens although leprosy is curable. However, every year we find almost half a million people afflicted by leprosy. If they receive medical help relatively early, they will be cured and will return to normal life. However, it often happens that we find people who have lost the sight or legs and in spite of the fact that they are cured they will remain disabled and cannot live on their own.
This disease has always aroused grave fear and that's why it was only the missionaries who cared for lepers. Today laymen get involved in their ministry as well. Answering to the call of Christ they leave their comfortable houses in Europe in order to serve the poorest of the poor.
This year, the 53rd World Day for Those Afflicted by Leprosy is celebrated in the background of the great event for the Follereau movement, which was the beautification of the French missionary and hermit Charles de Foucauld. It was thanks to him that Raoul Follereau discovered his Christian vocation to preach the message of the Good News to the lepers. During one of his journeys in the footsteps of Brother Charles he met his first charges. Those were miserable unfortunate people who were left to themselves and nobody wanted to deal with them. Then young Follereau understood that meeting every man who expected his help was a special occasion to ask the question: how much Christianity is in me? and how much egoism is in me? how much am I looking at myself? The above mentioned meeting in the paths of the desert inclined Follereau to live with the poorest to the end of his life. He did not live in a hermitage like Brother Charles but he devoted his all life to serve the people afflicted by leprosy. He did not convert them like de Foucauld but through his work he witnessed that God is Love. This spirit is present in all Follereau centres all over the world where one third of victims of leprosy are directed.
The first work of Follereau was the Charles de Foucauld Foundation, which was the beginning of the biggest work for the cause of lepers in the world. It helped to build chapels in the places that were connected with the life of the French hermit and in collaboration with the Sisters of the Congregation of our Lady of the Apostles the first model village of lepers was founded: in Adzope on the Ivory Coast. In the village the lepers were treated and could return to social and family lives. Today similar villages are in many countries world-wide.
Last year I could take the route of Charles de Foucauld and Raoul Follereau, which led me through the poorest countries of the African Sahel. I could participate in the World Day for Those Afflicted by Leprosy, which is a national holiday in Mali, Burkina Faso or Niger. The representatives of the governments meet the lepers and on this occasion they wear the same solemn robes, which the lepers wear to celebrate their feast. This is a meaningful symbol of restoring people who have left their isolation and are present with us.
I saw the cursed lepers' villages that the missionaries had described. I saw people without hands, legs, eyes, faces... people who want to live and work. Unfortunately, in the poor Sahel the long-lasting drought changed rivers into dunes, dry wells and withered plants. The weakest children suffer from hunger. The families afflicted by leprosy are in the most difficult situations. Therefore, we appeal again for support for our brothers lepers on the last Sunday of January.
In 2004 the World Health Organization reported of 410,000 new cases of leprosy. The figure of those cured but severely crippled by leprosy is believed to be 3 million. The data of the International Union of Raoul Follereau Societies are somewhat higher. In his appeal for the 53rd World Day for Those Afflicted by Leprosy, Michel Recipon reminds us that a new case of leprosy appears in the world every third minute. A child is afflicted by leprosy every tenth minute. The main centres of leprosy are in India and African countries.
In the world six million people suffer from physical and social consequences caused by leprosy. In the early 1980s an effective treatment was found. The pharmacological treatment lasts from 6 months up to 2 years.
The last 20 years were successful as far as our struggle with leprosy is concerned. According to the WHO report of 2004 over 13 million of those afflicted by leprosy were completely cured. Whereas in 1985 leprosy was endemic in 122 countries today it is a serious public problem only in 10 countries. Most cases of leprosy are reported to be in India, Brazil, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania.
In 2003 the Roman Catholic Church run 656 leprosariums all over the world. They were in Asia - 327, Africa - 254, America - 69, Europe - 4 and in Oceania - 2. The Camilian Fathers treat lepers in India, Benin, Brazil, Thailand, Madagascar and Burkina Faso. The Combonian Fathers and Sisters carry out similar works in Egypt, Uganda, Congo and Mozambique, and the Franciscan Sisters work in Ghana, Argentina, India and Vietnam.
You can send money for cause of lepers to:
Bank PKO SA
87 1240 1082 1111 0000 0387 2932, with the annotation 'Trad'
POLISH FOUNDATION OF RAOUL FOLLEREAU
'When we care for the sick and those in need we touch the suffering body of Christ and this makes us heroic people; it causes that we have overcome aversion and natural inclinations, which we have. It is an eye of faith and love - to see Christ in the sick and serve them, sharing their sufferings, everything .... Suffering is not punishment. Jesus does not punish. Suffering is a sign, sign that God loves us .... Through suffering pain, cross, illness and death one reaches life, reaches resurrection'.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta