of untold affliction . • • by Fr William Burridge, W.F.
A CERTAIN avenue in a corner of the island of Mauritius, gay with the blooms of bougainvillaea and flamboyants, serves paradoxically both as a happy symbol of the domain into which it leads and a poignant contrast with the fate that has bought the inmates there.
It is a leprosy centre, a place of untold affliction and a strange pervading joy.
These are places where you move amongst men and women of all ages stamped in varying degrees with the ravages of leprosy, the ugly sores, disintegration of hands and limbs, facial disfigurement.
But moving also constantly amongst them here in Mauritius as in a thousand similar leprosaria around the globe are missionary Sisters devoted to the care of these, the world's outcasts and inspiring them, even the many non-Christians amongst them, with hope and prayer.
A month ago one of the Sisters described the scene in which she lives and works.
"The ages of our charges", she writes, "range from 16 to 83. Robert, the 83-year-old, is a sad case of a lifetime of leprosy. He has lost his hands and his feet to the disease. He is totally blind. Who can tell how long Robert will continue in this condition? And yet no cornplaint ever rises to his lips. Ask him how he is even on his worst days and he quietly replies: "I am ill".
One of the most striking examples of heroic courage the Sister has to tell is the case of Agnes, a widow. One by one four of her children fell victims to leprosy. She brought her whole family to the island so that these four could have the benefit of the treatment at the leprosy centre. They were all desperately poor. She found some cleaning work in the nearby town and with the meagre pay she got managed at least to stave off the pangs of hunger. Her eldest child, a boy of thirteen, added a few coppers which he earned by going errands on an old bicycle. But one morning he was jammed between two buses and killed outright. Meantime leprosy took its grip on another of her sons. Before long he was covered in sores from head to foot. Cross upon cross seemed to
come into the poor woman's life. And yet for all the deep pang of it nothing could rob her of her serenity. Month by month her leper sons, faced though they' were with the awful reality of the disease and its stigma, learnt
her spirit of faith from her. If there were ever proof of deep interior peace it is the smiling eyes of a leper. In the life and work of the missionary leprosy workers and the victims they care for, faith is an essential key.
And so is hope.
Leprosy centres are practical places. Hope is nurtured by tireless medical and 'social' rounds of attention and the most ingenious use of the very limited means and funds.
This is what the Sister in Mauritius has to say about it. "All our people are poor. A very large percentage of them have nothing at all. Many can do nothing to help themselves. They are totally disabled by the disease. But those whose limbs are still of some use do what they can, especially by growing some food for themselves. They are all people from rural areas and are good at growing groundnuts, tapioca, sweet potatoes and maize. Sometimes one or another of them has attempted to rear chickens but soon tend to give it up because the losses are high, not least from thieves who come in the night! A few do a little carpentry but with distorted fingers this is slow and Rainful work and their general condition makes sustained work doubly difficult.
"Thanks to the grant allocated to us by St Francis Leprosy Guild", continues the Sister, "we have been able to provide them with clothing, shirts, trousers, dresses. We have also been able to get some furniture so that they can sit in comfort and above all, in safety".
But medical supplies are especially a source of both hope and, in budget terms, of constant anxiety. "With the advent of Sulphone treatment", Sister explains, "much has been
done but so much more could be done. But the only hope of controlling the spread of leprosy would be by widespread preventive fieldwork. If only there were the money and the personnel to do it!
"There is great hope too from the progress in medical research. This seems to be getting closer to the possibility of finding a vaccine. When that day dawns
the battle against leprosy will really be full of hope.
"A question mark also hangs over our youngest patient, the 16-year-old, suitably named Benjamin. He has been with us a year or more. Our great hope is that we have been able to give him treatment early enough to stem the progress of the disease so that he will eventually be able to return home and enjoy the company of his young brothers and sisters once more.
"Our great source of hope and encouragement is the knowledge that people at home, in particular the St Francis Leprosy Guild, are taking such a generous interest in our work and our patients. When we tell them that it is thanks to you that we have been able to get them food and clothing and medicines they are dumbfounded. But we are only lepers', they say, `Do people in Britain really think about us?' And when we assure them that it is so their gratitude and appreciation is a joy to see. `And how', they ask, 'can they know about us? Even in our own island many people are unaware of our presence'."
From this one leprosy centre, then, we bring you this first-hand witness of one missionary Sister. Every year the desk at the Leprosy Guild is piled with letters from the hundred and more leprosy centres round the world helped by the Guild's allocations (in other words, by your donations) each telling a similar story of the plight of men and women and little children destroyed by leprosy but also of the joy and untiring love and care made possible by your help which has brought to many a leper a veritable resurrection to a new life.