Thought for the Month
Sister Ruth Pfau, 'Mother Teresa of Pakistan'
Recently Sister Ruth Pfau, passed to eternal life. Here is a short biography of her life as it appears in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Dr Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau HI, RM, HP, NQA, SQA (9 September 1929 – 10 August 2017) was a German-born Pakistani physician and nun of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. She moved from Germany to Pakistan and devoted more than 50 years of her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan. Known as "Pakistan's Mother Teresa", Pfau contributed in establishing 157 leprosy clinics across Pakistan, that treated over 56,780 people.
Early life – Pfau was born on 9 September 1929in Leipzig, Germany, to Lutheran Protestant parents. She had four sisters and one brother. Her home was destroyed by bombing during World War II. Following the post-war Soviet occupation of East Germany she escaped to West Germany along with her family, and chose medicine as her future career. During the 1950s, she studied medicine at the University of Mainz. During this time, Pfau met several times with a Dutch Christian woman, who was a
concentration camp survivor and currently dedicated her life to "preaching love and forgiveness". After "her lifechanging experience", Pfau left "a romantic association" with a fellow student, got involved in discussions in the Mainz's philosophy and classical literature department.
After completing her clinical examination, Pfau moved to Marburg to carry on her clinical studies. Then she was baptized as an Evangelical Protestant in 1951, before her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1953. Pfau admitted that she learned the “courage of being human" from Saint Thomas Aquinas through Josef Pieper's writing. There she joined a Catholic parish, and she was greatly influenced by Romano Guardini's The Lord in this period. In 1957, she travelled to Paris and joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a Catholic order. She said, "When you receive such a calling, you cannot turn it down, for it is not you who has made the choice. ... God has chosen you for himself." The order later sent her to southern India; however, in 1960, a visa issue meant she became stuck in Karachi. She travelled to various parts of Pakistan and across the border to Afghanistan to rescue patients who were abandoned by their families or locked in small rooms for a lifetime.
Life in Pakistan – Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease sufferings—of the body and the soul. — Ruth Pfau.
In 1960, aged 31, she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to the people of Pakistan and their battle against leprosy outbreaks. While in Karachi, by chance she visited the Lepers’ Colony behind McLeod Road (now I. I. Chundrigar Road) near the City Railway Station. Here she decided that the care of patients would be her life's calling.
She started with medical treatment for the leprosy patients in a hut in this slum. The Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre was founded (which later branched out into tuberculosis and blindness prevention programmes) and social work for the leprosy patients and their family members was started by Dr. I. K. Gill. A Leprosy Clinic was bought in April 1963 and patients from all over Karachi, Pakistan, and even from Afghanistan came for treatment. In 1979, she was appointed as the Federal Advisor on Leprosy to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Government of Pakistan. Pfau went to distant areas of Pakistan where there were no medical facilities for leprosy patients. She collected donations in Germany and Pakistan and cooperated with hospitals in Rawalpindi and Karachi. In recognition of her service to the country, she was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1988.
Due to her continued efforts, in 1996, the World Health Organisation declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy. According to the Dawn, the number of leprosy cases nationwide dropped significantly from 19,398 in the early 1980s to 531 in 2016.
On 9 September 1999, Archbishop of Karachi, Simeon Anthony Pereira celebrated a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral to celebrate Sr. Pfau’s 70th birthday, which was attended by Christians together with Muslims.
Death – In the early morning on 10 August 2017, around 4:00 a.m. PST, Pfau died at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi after being admitted there due to respiratory problems on 4 August 2017. She was put on a ventilator after her condition worsened on 6 August. But, she refused the life support machine, which made her doctors remove it the next day, since she wished for "living a natural life". Pfau had been dealing with several health problems due to her advancing age, including kidney and heart disease, for which she has been undergoing treatment for several years.
Legacy – Dr Ruth Pfau is well respected by the Muslims in Pakistan, as the Muslims are the majority of patients in the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre. Saleem Maseh Amir also says that she never talks about religions, yet "her faith, service, and love" show actual representations of the spirit to animate interreligious relation. There is not many comments that I need to make to the life of this marvellous lady. Her life is a miracle. She is a Christian lady that teaches us with her life what our answer to the current world problems need to be. Love is the answer, only love can bring all peoples of different religions and faiths to live
together as brothers and sisters.
Fr Edward Vella
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