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Visit to leprosy home a moving experience for Catholics


June 17 2009

Father Joseph Zhao Shuhai happily shook hands with the residents of the leprosarium after he arrived at the facility, but was surprised when one of them refused to stretch out his hand.


Some of the visitors with residents
of the home for leprosy patients

The patient explained he recently had wounds on his hand and was worried he might infect the priest and the other visitors who came with him through a handshake.

The Catholic priest from Yanzhou in eastern China had come with seven of his parishioners to visit the nine residents of the home on June 9. They had traveled for two-and-a-half hours on narrow roads to reach the dilapidated stone building in Liangzhuang town near Taian city, in Shandong province.

Most of the nine residents, all men, aged 61-70, have recovered from leprosy but some of their faces and limbs are deformed.

They prefer to spend the rest of their lives at the home, as they fear they might not be able to adapt to living in society, said Father Zhao, who, together with parishioners, has been visiting the home from time to time over the past years.

The residents of the leprosarium got baptized recently after learning about the Catholic faith from some of Father Zhao´s parishioners.

On their recent trip, the visitors brought with them shoes, DVDs and clothes donated by other parishioners. They also brought eye drops and medicine for some of the residents who are suffering from red and swollen eyes.

The residents gathered to listen to Father Zhao who taught them some catechism and told them of the Ten Commandments and the Bible as well as encouraged them to pray. He reminded them that though they have experienced illness and may suffer discrimination, their souls remain "healthy and great before God."

Father Zhao told them that "in today´s society, there is a more terrible and infectious ´leprosy´ such as greed, injustice, licentiousness, abuse of power, and atheism" which lie at the heart of society. "As God is with us, we are more blessed than people who are infected with the new leprosy," he added.

The visitors recalled their sadness when told that the oldest resident died at the age of 75 two weeks ago.

He had asked Father Zhao to baptize him in May. The priest recalled that after his baptism, the resident wept and said, "I was abandoned by society, family and friends but God takes me as his son. I´m so happy!"

The resident also reportedly said: "I believe there is a true God who commands heaven and earth, and every human has an immortal soul. I have many sins and hope God will forgive me."

For four of the parishioners, this was their first visit to the leprosy home. They described the trip as "a pilgrimage" that changed their lives. "If we compare ourselves with the poor former leprosy patients, we are so blessed," they said, adding that they would like to do more to serve the residents of the home.