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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

NEWS: An Audience with the Pope

People affected by leprosy from Brazil meet Pope Francis, discuss terminology.

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A delegation from Brazil met with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on June 17. The group included Valdenora Rodriguez and Faustino Pinto, both persons affected by leprosy, as well as Artur Custodio, the national coordinator for the Movement for the Reintegration of Person’s Affected by Hansen’s Disease (MORHAN), and Thiago Flores, MORHAN’s coordinator for Minas Gerais state in southeast Brazil, who was separated at birth from his parents because they had leprosy.

The meeting, which was some two years in the making, was arranged through Bishop Diogo Reesink, O.F.M., a Dutch-born bishop emeritus of the diocese of Teofilio Otoni in Minas Gerais.

Rodriguez (in photo) was the first to greet the Pope. She gave a brief account of her life before asking him not to refer to the disease as “leprosy” but as “Hansen’s disease.” Brazil officially adopted the term “hanseníase” in 1976 in place of “lepra” because of the latter’s associations with marginalization, discrimination and prejudice.

Flores told Pope Francis that in order to end the discrimination against leprosy in Brazil, the support of the Catholic Church was essential. “Your Holiness’s words are influential. We call upon you to ask the Church not to use the word ‘leprosy’.”

He also requested that the Pope see a former colony where people were isolated from society on his next visit to Brazil.

Among the group was Tatsuya Tanami, executive director of the Nippon Foundation, who presented Pope Francis with a letter from Nippon Foundation Chairman and Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa. In the letter, Sasakawa proposed hosting a joint meeting with the Vatican for discussing strategies to eliminate the stigma associated with leprosy from the world.