Updated: February 14, 2018 05:45 AM GMT
Christians and Hindus offer floral tributes at the mausoleum of Polish missioner Marian Zelazek in Puri, where he spent more than three decades working for the poor and leprosy patients. (Photo by Purushotam Nayak/ucanews.com)
Polish ambassador to India Adam Burakowski joined 2,500 people and Catholic Church leaders to celebrate the birth centenary of Polish Divine Word missioner Father Marian Zelazek, who spent his life working among leprosy sufferers and the poor in Odisha state.
With prayers, speeches, dances and an exhibition, the Feb. 11 gathering in the seaside city of Puri remembered the priest's three-decade-long service among leprosy patients, which made him a nominee for a Nobel Prize in 2002.
Hundreds of people, including Hindus whom he befriended during his life in the temple city, paid tributes with flowers at a mausoleum close to the Karunalayam (house of mercy) leprosy sanatorium he built up.
The priest came to India in 1950 at the age of 32 and died in 2006 aged 88. He was buried in Jharsuguda in a cemetery attached to house of the missioners of the Divine Word Society, who took up mission work in the area.
Father Zelazek arrived in Puri in 1975 planning to start a school but decided to work for the Hansenites after witnessing the fate of socially outcast lepers, abandoned by families and begging in and around Puri's famed Shree Jagannath Temple.
"The life and work of Father Zelazek convey the important message that any society can progress only when every individual, whether sick or healthy, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, is cared for," Divine Word Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar said in his homily.
Father Zelazek spent his initial missionary years teaching indigenous people in the interior areas of Odisha.
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