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Pakistan mourns nun who led fight to defeat leprosy

The government of Pakistan will accord a state funeral to Sr Ruth Katharina Martha Pfau, a German-born member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan.

Sr Ruth, dubbed the Mother Teresa of Pakistan, died on August 10 in Karachi, aged 87.

“Sr Ruth was a model of total dedication,” Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, president of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said. “She inspired and mobilised all sections of society to join the fight against leprosy, irrespective of creed or ethnic identity.

“We are happy that the government is according her a state funeral on August 19.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Sr Pfau would be remembered for her courage, her loyalty, her service to the eradication of leprosy and for her patriotism.

“Pfau may have been born in Germany [but] her heart was always in Pakistan,” he said.

Born in Leipzig in 1929, she went to France to study medicine and later joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary.

Archbishop Coutts said she arrived in Karachi in 1960 due to some visa problems en route to India and was touched by what she saw at a leprosy colony in Karachi. She decided to join the work that Mexican Sr Bernice Vargasi had begun three year earlier.

In 1962 Sr Ruth founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, Pakistan’s first hospital dedicated to treating the disease, and later set up branches all over Pakistan.

She spent the rest of her life in the country and was granted Pakistani citizenship.

In 1996, the World Health Organisation declared Pakistan one of the first Asian countries to be free of the disease. The Dawn newspaper reported in 2016 that the number of patients being treated was 531. In the 1980s it was more than 19,000.

The Pakistani bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace called Sr Pfau a ‘national hero of Pakistan.’

It said her services for humanity ‘were nothing less than a pure manifestation of God’s divine love.’

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