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February 11, 2018
In the last 22 years I never fail to help and pray for the lepers. Of course, you have a share in it too. Many of our parishioners have embraced the lepers in their hearts. I came to love them the first time I visited a leper colony which was built by a French priest in the 1930’s. After his ordination, Fr. Jean Cassaigne was sent to Vietnam and soon after he found himself among the lepers. As you may know, leprosy is a disease that attacks the extremities (feet, fingers, nose) causing them to lose sensation and begin to rot and fall off. Leprosy consumes the body leading to a painful death. It includes most skin disorders: Hansen's disease, which is leprosy proper, psoriasis, skin cancer, impetigo, boils and even serious acne. Lepers are ostracized by their families and neighbors, and forced to live outside the villages and towns. They are referred to as the Living Dead. Fr. Jean Cassaigne gathered them into one place, built simple houses, bought some chickens and a cow or two for each family. He educated them and introduced the Lord Jesus to them. He had never been trained in any medical schools but he washed and bandaged their wounds, gave them medication and even played as a midwife. One evening, his staff was not available and a lady was about to give birth. People were shy to let a priest help them in birthing but he told them that he was the only person around there who had all ten healthy fingers!
A few years later he was elected bishop for a largest archdiocese in Vietnam but God had another plan. Our bishop contracted leprosy and volunteered to return to the colony. Along with leprosy, malaria visited him too. This poor bishop lived in suffering among his people until he died and was buried beside the chapel he built at the colony. I stayed there with those lepers for 3 days, offered Mass with them, ate with them and they were never shy to tell me stories about their founder. Before I left I knelt at his tomb and thanked him for what he did for the people who carried the ugliest decease in the world. I also promised him to be a friend to the lepers.