Vietnam: Catholic community celebrate New Year with leprosy patients

 Seventy priests, nuns, novices and university students in Thanh Hoa diocese came to work in a state-run leprosarium to help patients prepare the lunar new year on January 31. Their intention was to bring joy to the patients, help relieve the pain and struggle to dispel prejudices in society. Bishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh and other Church leaders of Thanh Hoa have led Catholic community to visit the leprosarium many times. Most visitors to the leprosarium, even the patients' relatives, keep a distance with the patients. However, members of Thanh Hoa Catholic community hug, and shake hands with them. They come to each patient room to clean up and decorate it with symbols of Tet. Like other state-run leprosy hospitals, the Cam Thuy leprosarium is located in a rural area, two hours driving time from Thanh Hoa city. There hundreds of adult and children are treated. Church Social workers state that the possibility to cure the disease is sharply increased with timely clinical diagnosis that identifies the bacteria at the beginning of its presence in a body, and the willingness to seek treatment as soon as possible. However, they are afraid that the isolation of leprosy hospitals along with numerous prejudices in the society would prevent patients to do so. In particular, there is a common misperception that leprosy is a hereditary disease. This leads to a high number of forced abortions and sterilizations among leprosy patients. Fr Joseph Nguyen Duc Thanh, who led the delegation of Thanh Hoa Catholic community, expressed to the patients a hope that "the visit will remain in your heart as a symbol of love". While a university student said he saw in the patients' body disfigured by Hansen's disease the suffering Christ himself is present. J.B. An Dang

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