Wednesday, 22 May 2024
Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Sister working in leprosy invited to present at Vatican Symposium on Leprosy

St Francis Leprosy Guild has announced that Sister Mary Bawani Chelliah, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Sri Lanka, will present their work with people affected by leprosy during the Covid-19 pandemic, at the International Symposium at the Vatican.  

Sister Bawani served as a leprosy apostolate for twenty years at Manthivu leprosy hospital in Sri Lanka. A major part of her mission was to visit people with leprosy, especially those in remote communities. Her role was to take provisions, and medication and provide practical support. She also visited as a friend. She now lives at the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Convent in Rome. St Francis Leprosy Guild works in partnership with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Sri Lanka to care for people with leprosy.   

The International Symposium on leprosy, entitled ‘Leave No One Behind’ will take place at the Augustinian Patristic Institute on 23 and 24 January 2023. It is being organised by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative together with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development of the Roman Curia, Raoul Follereau Foundation and Associazione Italiana Amici di Raoul Follereau.

Sister Bawani will present during the ‘Best Practices with special attention to roles of religious organizations’ session on 24 January 2023. She will describe the community outreach work undertaken by the Sisters from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary from the Manthivu, Hendala and Badulla leprosy centres in Sri Lanka and their work during the pandemic.

SFLG’s Chief Executive Officer, Clare McIntosh said:

“During the pandemic, resources of every kind were scarce in Sri Lanka. If there was any provision for hardship, people with leprosy were at the back of the queue. Thanks to the dedication and compassion of the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionary of Mary, help was at hand. We are delighted that Sister Bawani will tell the story of what happened during the pandemic, at the Symposium next week.” 

Sister Bawani said:

“During the pandemic, our mission was challenged by many obstacles. But travel restrictions imposed by the government did not stop our visits even though the number of visits was reduced. Some of the people we visited were given mobile phones to stay in touch. For others, money was paid directly to their bank accounts. Some were helped through the local parish priest and when possible, supported by neighbours. So, the Sisters did not keep quiet, even though the virus was spreading and taking many lives every day, especially during the second wave of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 pushed leprosy communities to the back of the queue and out of mind during the lockdown. The Sisters made sure that they were not forgotten and had what they needed to survive.

“People with leprosy live in considerable hardship, even if their community is unaware that they are affected by leprosy. Taking rations was particularly important during the pandemic. Thanks be to God, the Sisters were not affected by the virus and God permitted us to help our dear patients continually through new ways, bringing a ray of hope and happiness in this difficult period.” 

Since people with leprosy are often rejected by their families and communities, they were even less likely to have anyone to depend upon during the pandemic. The Sisters visited and took vital provisions during the lockdown. 

The financial crisis and civil unrest in Sri Lanka mean the attention and resources given to leprosy are less and the number of children and adults infected by leprosy is increasing. Travel restrictions and food and medicine shortages also challenge the Sisters to continue with their mission.


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