Pope Francis prays in front of a crucifix during his general audience on Oct. 26, 2022. / Vatican Media
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 24, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).
Pope Francis is calling on Catholics and people worldwide to remember those suffering from leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, ahead of World Leprosy Day.
“We cannot forget these brothers and sisters of ours,” the 86-year-old pontiff said in a message to the Second Symposium on Hansen’s disease held Jan. 23-24 in Rome. “We must not ignore this disease, which unfortunately still afflicts many people, especially in the most disadvantaged social contexts.”
While the disease is easily curable and rare in countries such as the United States, people from around the world still suffer from it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 2-3 million people are living with Hansen’s disease-related disabilities worldwide.
World Leprosy Day, which is held annually on the last Sunday of January, began in 1954 in an attempt to raise awareness of the disease.
“What should concern us, today more than then, is that not only the disease can be forgotten, but also the people,” Pope Francis urged in his message.
He added: “On the contrary, convinced of the human family’s vocation to fraternity, let us allow ourselves to be challenged and to be asked: ‘Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another to get up?’”
The pope encouraged symposium participants to see World Leprosy Day as an opportunity to “revise our models of development,” “denounce and try to correct the discrimination they cause,” and “renew our commitment to building an inclusive society.”
Those who suffer from leprosy, he stressed, are human persons of inherent dignity and worth.
“Specifically, we must ask ourselves how best to collaborate with people affected by leprosy, treating them fully as people, recognizing them as the key protagonists in their struggle to participate in fundamental human rights and to live as fully-fledged members of the community,” he invited.
Pope Francis concluded by expressing his closeness to those who suffer from Hansen’s disease and encouraging participants to ensure that those struggling with the disease have both spiritual support and health care.
He asked for the intercession of Mary Most Holy as well as the “many saints who served Christ in people affected by leprosy” for the symposium participants.
“May everyone experience that Jesus came so that every man and woman might have life, and have it in abundance,” he said.