Good Afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Today we are here to learn about the candidates for the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith Award. Today I would like to introduce you to someone who I feel is exactly the type of person who deserves this honour. She is known as “the angel of Karachi”, “mother of persons affected by leprosy”, and even as “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”. This heroic person is someone who has never sought out the spotlight for herself but spends every waking hour defending those who are ignored and forgotten. Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce you to Dr. Ruth Pfau.
Dr. Pfau was never a stranger to struggles and atrocity. She was born in Leipzig, Germany on September 9th, 1929. Being a German during World War 2 gave her a front row seat to the horrors committed by the Nazi’s. The genocide and massacre she witnessed inspired her to become a doctor in the hopes of helping others. After the end of the War she made the dangerous trek from communist East Germany to Democratic West Germany in order to pursue a medical education. During her time in medical school she became exposed to the various groups within Christianity. She was inspired by, the words of St. Thomas Aquinas and John of Damascus; Dr. Pfau decided to convert to Catholicism. She believed that the Pope was required in order to find theological truth and as an authority figure in the Church. Her devotion to God was so strong and unshakable that she eventually became a nun and joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary order.
Dr. Pfau’s skills as a doctor made her an asset to the Order’s various charity missions. In 1960 she was given an assignment to help with the healthcare of the poor in Bombay, India. However, due to visa problems she was stopped over in Pakistan in the urban city of Karachi. It was there that her life changed forever. While in Karachi, Dr. Pfau and her companion nun visited a leper beggar colony in the less desirable part of the city. It was an experience that she will never forget. She later recalls the event in The Express Tribune, “I felt saddened when I saw people living in caves, crawling like animals. They had compromised with their faith but it was not their fate, they deserved a much better and happier life.” Seeing the slum-like conditions of the colony, Dr. Pfau realized that God had stopped her over in Karachi for a reason and that her real missions was to help those unfortunate and vulnerable souls whose eyes she had looked into only to find God looking back at her.
Dr. Pfau has now spent over half a century in Pakistan. She has trained many doctors and volunteers in leprosy care and has even helped create the Mary Adelaide Leprosy Centre which works all over the country to provide care for leprosy patients. Now, although the story of how she became a nun and help the lepers in Pakistan was not as exciting as the typical call stories of the prophets it was all Dr. Pfau needed to realize her mission in life. Although, God did not speak directly to her the way he had to Abraham and Moses, Dr. Pfau still knew that God was calling to her through the suffering she had witnessed throughout her life and in the beggar colony. She might not have had a direct conversation with God, but she also never had that moment of doubt that the other prophets did. She never hesitated to help the lepers after she met them. She mentions this in an article in loonwatch.com, “Well if it doesn’t hit you the first time, I don’t think it will ever hit you.”
Dr. Pfau is someone who always knows what she needs to do. In Karachi, she witnessed an injustice she knew, in her conscience, was wrong, she found a solution to it and then worked hard to make her idea a reality. She was never someone who was dishonest; every penny raised for the leprosy fund has been used for the purpose it was donated for. Despite the heavy corruption in Pakistan, Dr Pfau has never used a dishonest means to get money for her cause and has always acted for those whose cries go unheard of within the traffic and rush of Karachi.
One other quality of Dr. Pfau’s is something that further reinforces the fact that she deserves this award. Dr. Pfau has never let her hard work keep her away from her faith. Every morning she wakes and prays at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi. She does not make a big show of her praying but does it quietly and in private where it is just her and God. She always treats her fellow human beings with dignity and respect regardless of their situation in life. She is someone who mourns for others when they are in need. She feels the pain of people when they are treated like second-class citizens because of their leprosy. Dr. Pfau is also someone who is poor in spirit. She is always donating her time and effort to help those in need at the leprosy colony. She also does not use her fame to increase her own standard of living but to help those who really need it. For example, when she had an interview with a prominent Pakistani new channel Geo, she spent the bulk of the time promoting care for leprosy instead of talking about herself. Every time she receives an award, she always mentions her patients first. She uses her spotlight to increase the attention on the leprosy patients so that they can also have a voice. She is someone who treats her patients with gentleness and compassion and works hard to support the lives of others by offering medical care, food and funds. Dr. Pfau has always promoted the life of her patients and refuses to allow them to suffer. She does not crave material possessions, for she knows that God is the greatest treasure. Dr. Pfau does not always travel the easier path; in fact, she usually chooses the road less travelled because she knows that while it is not easy being Catholic, in the end it will pay off. For example, she knew beforehand that the life of a nun meant certain sacrifices and hardships but she knew that the light at the end of the tunnel was God and to reach that light she was going to have to crawl through the narrow tunnel. She did not use her medical training to live the comfortable life most doctors do. Instead she used it to help enhance the lives of those that had next to nothing.
Not only is Dr. Pfau an admirable Catholic but she is also an exemplary human being. She knew that God had placed inside of her a natural inclination to do good and a skill in medicine so that she could heal people. She used this skill to help the lepers, and later, the flood victims in northern Pakistan because she knew that this was her teleology. She used fortitude and prudence to help out an entire community. She also thinks every person is unique and deserves respect because they are created in God’s image and that just because you are a leper or a poor farmer does not mean that you are below everyone.
Although Dr. Pfau was never someone who went out and actively sought out the spotlight her courageous work could not go unaccredited. She has been given various awards throughout her life to commend her for her excellent work. A few awards she won are-Order of the Cross in 1968 from Germany, and honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2004 from Aga Khan University (Pakistan’s leading medical school), and the prestigious “Nishan-i-quaid-i-Azam Award” presented to her by the president of Pakistan in 2011.
Through her hard work, Dr. Pfau made Pakistan, a nation considered sub-standard when compared to other great nations in Asia, the first country in the continent to have leprosy controlled. She is someone who has always stayed faithful to God and her devotion to Catholicism is something to be admired. She is a light of hope in a dark world for many and I personally consider her a living legend. I hope that you all now also see her as the person who should receive this honour and as someone everyone should aspire to be like. Thank you for your attention.