Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humanity. Down the centuries it has caused untold suffering - physical, emotional and psychological. Despite the fact the disease is now completely curable, it continues to stigmatize those it affects because of the myths and misconceptions that surround it. In some countries, leprosy is now called Hansen's disease to separate it from the negative connotations the word has acquired through the ages.
How disappointing, then, to see Pope Francis quoted recently by the Catholic News Service as saying, "Careerism is a leprosy, a leprosy!" He was addressing students of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains priests to serve as Vatican diplomats, and urging them not to put personal ambition ahead of service to the Church.
The Pope had a point to make, but we are sorry he had to undermine efforts to reduce the stigma attached to the disease in the process. May we not expect greater sensitivity from the head of the world's largest Christian church?
His comment was all the more regrettable as the Catholic Church annually publishes a supportive message on World Leprosy Day and has made saints of two people who lived and worked with people affected by leprosy on Molokai in Hawaii.
In 2009, 17 faith leaders - among them the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care - signed Global Appeal 2009 to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy. These representatives of the world's leading religions noted the persistence of mistaken beliefs about leprosy, which perpetuate social and economic discrimination. "All of us must be part of the social healing process," they stated. We are sure it was never Pope Francis's intention to cause anguish to people affected by leprosy with his recent comment and believe he would endorse the sentiments expressed in the Global Appeal.