A congregation that has been working with lepers in eastern India since 1975 says it is struggling to get funds either from public or private partners to sustain its work.
“Since the declaration of ‘leprosy eradicated’ by the United Nation and thus by the Government of India in 2006, there has been no funding by the government nor by funding agencies towards the treatment and rehabilitation of persons affected by Hansen's disease,” says Father Alexis Nayak, director of Damien Social Development Institute (DSDI), Bhubaneswar, Odisha, eastern India.
According to Father Nayak, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts (SS.CC.) in India and the ministry of care of leprosy patients (persons affected by Hansen's disease) dates back to June 19, 1975, when the first American SS.CC. Father William Francis Petrie arrived in Calcutta with the invitation of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was then renowned for her service to the poorest of the poor - the lepers in Calcutta, the City of Joy.
Inspired by the life and ministry of St. Damien of Molokai, the leper priest on the island of Molokai in Hawaii, who himself was a missionary member of the Sacred Hearts Congregation from Belgium, Father Petrie had chosen to live out the spirit and legacy of St. Damien of Molokai in the service of the leprosy patients in collaboration with the works of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
She was only too happy to receive him as a partner in her mission among the leprosy patients.
For the first four years, after he arrived in Calcutta in 1975 and was sent by St. Mother Teresa, Father Petrie served and worked with the leprosy patients in the famous Shanti Nagar leprosy rehabilitation center in West Bengal, an eastern Indian state.
At the same time, he also took care of the spiritual and sacramental life of Missionaries of Charity Sisters serving the patients in the rehabilitation center.
However, at the request of St. Mother Teresa, on February 14, 1979, Father Petrie once again moved from Shanti Nagar to Bhubaneswar - the capital city of the state of Odisha to assist in the development of the Gandhi Shanti Nivas Leprosy Rehabilitation Center at Janla which is about 17 kilometers from Bhubaneswar.
In the initial years, Father Petrie lived in the Archbishop's House in Bhubaneswar and won the trust, confidence and personal friendship of then Archbishop Henry D'Souza, who also wanted Father Patrie to share the spirit and charism of St. Damien of Molokai and to coordinate various leprosy rehabilitation projects in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar where the Church organizations were involved in the care of patients affected by Hansen's disease.
From the start of the leprosy rehabilitation project at Gandhi Shanti Nivas Leprosy Rehabilitation Center at Janla overflowed the Archdiocesan Leprosy Office, the brainchild of a shared vision of Father Petrie and Archbishop D'Souza.
It was through the Archdiocesan Leprosy Office that Father Petrie carried out many other innovative capacity building leprosy programs, such as leprosy awareness, leprosy eradication and rehabilitation, and training of doctors and paramedical workers for the treatment of patients affected by Hansen's disease with the public awareness slogan "Leprosy touchable, treatable and curable."
To further promote the spirit and legacy of St. Damien of Molokai and to compliment the works of the Archdiocesan Leprosy Office (ALO), Br. William Francis Petrie founded a registered Non-government Organization called Damien Institute (DI) in Bhubaneswar in 1986.
In collaboration with the Government of Odisha, Lepra India, Catholic Charity, Damien Foundation (Belgium) and Andheri Hilfe (Germany) he reached out to hundreds and thousands of patients affected by Hansen's disease throughout the state of Odisha through leprosy awareness, educational, training and medical programs.
He also set up livelihood programs and training centers for the rehabilitation of leprosy patients, Damien clinics for the treatment of leprosy patients, and built thousands of houses for the rehabilitation of leprosy patients.
Father Petrie left India in 2000, but many decades later the cured leprosy patients still fondly remember him in and around the cities of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Khurda, Choudwar and Chhatrapur in the state of Odisha. He remains their hero.
The spirit and legacy of St. Damien of Molokai which was carried out by Father Petrie still live on through the works of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts among the persons affected by Hansen's disease in the state of Odisha, particularly in the cities of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Choudwar, and Khurda.
The Congregation still serves the patients affected by Hansen's disease in different leprosy colonies in these cities through medical, educational and rehabilitation programs reaching out to about 1836 leprosy families with a population of about 5508. - With inputs from Fides
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