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Church aids state in care for lepers

Collaborative center continues tradition of vital support

Church aids state in care for lepers
Sister Anna Nguyen Thi Xuan (far right), two patients and Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli posing for a group photo in June reporter, Bac Ninh City

August 18, 2011

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Leprosy – or Hansen’s disease as it is often called now – has afflicted humanity for at least 4,000 years. Frequently mentioned in the Bible, it was recognized and feared in the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt and India. Thankfully it is on the decline in most parts of the world, but in Vietnam it continues to affect thousands of new victims every year. So the work of healing centers like the Qua Cam Center in northern Bac Ninh province is as vital as ever. Here, a long-established, harmonious cooperation between the Church and local health officials has helped to dramatically improve the material and spiritual lives of thousands. “We all now live a happy and full life thanks to the voluntary and collaborative efforts of the local Church,” says Nguyen Duc Tam, spokesman for the 153 patients who live permanently at the Center. “The Bac Ninh diocese has given funding to build private houses and paths in the center, and they’ve also provided money to farm fish and plant fruit trees for a living. They buy bicycles for 100 of the lepers’ children and fund 300 annual scholarships.” The Center has a long, illustrious history of service to the community. Founded by a priest in 1913, it operated until its confiscation by the government in 1954. When Sacred Heart Sister Anna Nguyen Thi Xuan came to work there in 1988, it was virtually derelict. “The 300 lepers who lived here were in ramshackle houses, abandoned and not given proper care,” she recalls. “At first, I washed patients’ clothes, bathed their bodies and carried them on my shoulders to dispensaries.” “I also attended courses on medical care and ways to make sandals and tools, so I could help patients who lose their toes or fingers with walking, writing and eating.” She is now one of two nuns who stay full-time at the Center, supported by seminarians from Hanoi who come to work with them in the summer. Her tasks range all the way from making sandals and repairing false legs to organizing visits with other leprosariums and even arranging weddings. “The local priests also provide pastoral care for the Catholics here,” she says, “at a chapel built in 2005 in the compound.” Sister Xuan says she is inspired by the Paris Foreign Missions Bishop Jean Cassaigne, who founded Di Linh Leprosarium in 1928 and worked there ever after. The bishop died of the disease in 1973 and was buried at the leprosarium, in accordance with his will. “Devotion to the lepers is my way to follow his example,” she says. Related reports: Catholic nun honored for decades of service to people with leprosy
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