Promoting Inclusion of People with Hansen’s Disease

Pope Calls for Committed Fight against Hansen’s Disease


Pope Francis led a large open-air mass at Saint Peter’s Square on June 12 and, making a special reference to people affected by Hansen’s disease, called for a “fruitful commitment” in the fight against the disease.

Pope Takes Up Topic of Hansen’s Disease

A special mass was held at the Vatican on June 12, 2016, as part of the Catholic Church’s jubilee events for the ill and disabled during the Holy Year of Mercy, to which many people with disabilities, medical practitioners, and welfare workers were invited.

Pope Francis expressed his heartfelt gratitude to medical workers and caregivers and made special reference to people affected by Hansen’s disease, noting that an international symposium had just taken place at the Vatican on June 9 and 10 dedicated to the care of people affected by leprosy. “My gratitude goes to the organizers and participants of this conference,” he said, “and I hope for a fruitful commitment in the fight against this disease.”

The symposium, titled “Towards Holistic Care for People with Hansen’s Disease: Respectful of Their Dignity,” was organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and the Nippon Foundation. It attracted some 250 medical practitioners, recovered patients, and religious leaders from 45 countries and concluded with the issuing of the Conclusions and Recommendations.

Message of Hope

Soon after his election as pope in 2013, he proclaimed that “careerism is a leprosy.” While the remark was meant as a warning to priests to renounce their personal ambitions for service to the church, patients and those working to end discrimination against Hansen’s disease criticized the analogy as reinforcing a negative image of the disease. The pope’s comments at the mass were thus greeted warmly by symposium participants.

Recovered Hansen’s disease patients from Indonesia, Colombia, Ghana, and other countries rejoice following the papal mass.

The remarks were particularly welcomed by recovered patients from Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines, which have large Catholic populations. “The pope is the ‘father’ of Catholics worldwide, and his comments are very influential,” said Cofi Nyarko of Ghana. “His message offers hope of ending prejudice and discrimination against patients and their families.”

Ishida Masao of Japan, who serves as vice-chairman of the residents’ organization at the National Sanatorium Nagashima Aiseien in Okayama Prefecture, attended the mass in person. “I’m a Protestant, but as a fellow Christian I’m really happy to have been a witness to this historic moment,” Ishida commented. “This is the first time I’ve participated in an international conference on Hansen’s disease, and I’m truly glad to have been able to meet many young recovered patients from abroad. It has given me courage to keep on working for a stigma-free world.”

Ishida Masao offers a prayer during mass at Saint Peter’s Square.

(Originally written in Japanese by Ishii Masato of and published on June 14, 2016. Banner photo: Pope Francis leads a mass at Saint Peter’s Square on June 12, 2016.)

leprosy Hansen’s Disease Pope Francis Vatican