2016-01-29 13:30:00

Message for 63rd World Leprosy Day: 'To live is to help to live'

(Vatican Radio)  Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, on Friday released his message for the 63rd World Leprosy Day

The theme of this year's message is 'To live is to help to live'. 

World Leprosy Day is traditionally help around the world on the last Sunday of January. It was begun in 1954 by French philanthropist and writer, Raoul Follereau, as a way to raise awareness of this deadly ancient disease.

The full message is below:

Message of H.E. Msgr. Zygmunt Zimowski, the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care), on the Occasion of the Sixty-Third World Leprosy Day

To live is to help to live

(31 January 2016)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This sixty-third World Leprosy Day, which has the title ‘To Live is to Help to Live’, constitutes for everyone an opportunity to continue with the fight against this terrible infection, as well as to weaken the ostracism that often burdens the people who carry its unmistakable signs.

This is a marginalisation that can be traced back to a natural sense of self-defence in relation to a disease which at one time was incurable, and to an almost ‘ancestral’ fear which, however, today no longer has any reason to exist given that leprosy can be defeated and those who have been cured of it can go back to living.

The distancing, like the exclusion from of social life, of those who carry its signs are, therefore, totally unreasonable and indeed they provoke further and unjustified sufferings in totally innocent people who already suffer as a result of the lesions – which are often also accompanied by disability – that are provoked by this disease. In this sense, those who have good health are called to help those who still today are the victims of an unjustified social stigma to live in a dignified way.

This constitutes a concrete sign of solidarity, of authentic fraternity, and of mercy, in line with what – during this Jubilee Year – we are taught by Pope Francis, who points out to us that we must manage to help them, ‘looking them in the eye’, without being ‘afraid to touch them’, so that ‘this gesture of help may also be a gesture of communication…a gesture of tenderness’. [1]

This commitment, in addition, forms a part of that concern that the Holy Father himself emphasised in his Message for the forthcoming World Day of the Sick which will be celebrated on 11 February in the Holy Land: ‘In Mary’s concern we see reflected the tenderness of God. This same tenderness is present in the lives of all those persons who attend the sick and understand their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look upon them with eyes full of love’. In this concrete and disinterested gesture one can truly recognise in action the theme chosen for this event: to live is to help to live.

Making its own the commitment of the Church to caring for people with leprosy and supporting those who have been cured of it, and in order to increase the sensitivity of men and women of good will, our Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, cooperating, respectively, with the Sasakawa Foundation and the Raoul Follereau Foundation, has organised two study days which will be held on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 June 2016 in the Vatican.

At that event, those taking part will be able to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday 12 June, on the occasion of the Jubilee for the Sick and Disabled.

I take this opportunity to send my greetings to those with leprosy and to thank dutifully those who do all they can for all those people who have to be treated and cared for, or who are relegated to the margins of society because of this disease, which is still endemic in various countries of Asia, South America and Africa. Equally, we must feel ourselves committed to finding a new impetus against this disease, broadening activities involving information and prevention, but above all fostering, as a gesture of true ‘com-passion’, the social and occupational reintegration of those who have been cured of it and who – despite the fact that they carry the marks of this disease on their bodies – have maintained intact their dignity as persons.

In this work let us take as an example, and be inspired by, many Saints and Blesseds, as well as by men and women of good will, who have dedicated, and at times sacrificed, their lives to be at the side of people with Hansen’s disease, even at a time when leprosy was clinically incurable and a source of innumerable deaths. Amongst the most representative we can but remember St. Damien de Veuster, St. Marianne Cope, the Blessed Jan Beyzym, and Albert Schweitzer.

In expressing by this Message the gospel nearness that the Church still and always intends to bear witness to, both with people who are afflicted by leprosy and with those who take care of them, I entrust the celebration of this World Leprosy Day to the maternal care of the Most Holy Mary, in whose steps we may follow in order to cross – with care and joy – the threshold of the Holy Door of Mercy and meet He who is true Life.

[1] Pope Francis, Angelus (15 February 2015).

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