Rome (Agenzia Fides) - In her missionary work, the Church has a long tradition of assisting lepers, often abandoned even by their own families. She has always offered them concrete possibilities of healing and reintegration into society. On the occasion of the Day of Vocations, we publish the testimony of the commitment in India of a missionary of the same congregation of St Damien de Veuster, of which he was the worthy heir.
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The link between the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts (SS.CC.) in India and the ministry of care of the leprosy patients (Persons affected by Hansen’s disease) dates back to June 19, 1975 when the first American SS.CC. missionary Fr. William Francis Petrie arrived in Calcutta with the invitation of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was then renowned for her service to the poorest of the poor – the lepers in Calcutta, the City of Joy. Inspired by the life and ministry of St. Damien of Molokai, the leper priest on the island of Molokai in Hawaii, who himself was a missionary member of the Sacred Hearts Congregation from Belgium, Fr. William Francis Petrie had chosen to live out the spirit and legacy of St. Damien of Molokai in the service of the leprosy patients in collaboration with the works of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was only too happy to receive him as a partner in her mission among the leprosy patients. For the first four years after his arrival in Calcutta in 1975 and being sent by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. William Francis Petrie served and worked with the leprosy patients in the famous Shanti Nagar leprosy rehabilitation centre in West Bengal. At the same time, he also took care of the spiritual and sacramental life of Missionaries of Charity Sisters serving the patients in the rehabilitation centre.
However, on the request of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, on February 14, 1979 Fr. William Francis Petrie once again moved from Shanti Nagar to Bhubaneswar – the capital city of the state of Odisha to assist in the development of Gandhi Shanti Nivas Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre at Janla which is about seventeen kilometres from Bhubaneswar. In the initial years, Fr. William Francis Petrie lived in the Archbishop’s house in Bhubaneswar and won the trust, confidence and personal friendship of Archbishop Henry D’Souza, who also wanted Fr. William to share the spirit and charism of St. Damien of Molokai and to coordinate various leprosy rehabilitation projects in the Archdiocese of Cuttack – Bhubaneswar where the Church Organizations were involved in the care of patients affected by Hansen’s disease. (...) (Agenzia Fides, 7/5/2022)