The Chaplaincy seeks to provide the space, time and the opportunity so
that staff, patients, companions, trainees and other persons may have an
encounter with God .
We do this through different ways:
• Offering Christian literature (free and/or sale)
• Talks and Christian messages
• Christian music (through speakers in waiting areas and hospital rooms)
• Visits to patients
Leprosy, stigma and the Bible
One of the most challenging tasks we have in the chaplaincy is to
clarify some misconceptions that people have about leprosy. Elisa's story and
the related biblical reflection could help to clarify some of the questions
that people may have.
¨They don´t accept me as their
neighbor!¨ This was Elisa´s concern, as she approached us. Her neighbors
collected signatures to force her to leave the neighborhood. They also wanted
to forbid her children from going to school in the neighborhood and have
contact with the other children.
Elisa lives very near Asunción. She has completed the treatment for
leprosy. She can not infect her neighbors. But somehow, her neighbors
discovered that she had leprosy. Now everyone is scared and they do not want to
have any contact with her. Someone came up with the idea of collecting
signatures to get Elisa and her family move to another place.
Thank God, Elisa does not give up so easily. She asks the doctor to
describe her condition in a letter: ¨ Elisa has been treated and cured. She is
no longer contagious. She can have a normal life.¨ Elisa photocopied these ¨good
news ¨ and distributed it among her neighbors. In her open, direct and
determined approach, she convinces people not to reject her and her family
anymore. Elisa can go on with her life and her children can continue going to
Elisa's story is just one of thousands. Almost every person with leprosy
could tell story after story of exclusion, discrimination and stigma. Stigma is
the negative response people have towards people who are different. What
motivates people to treat a person affected by leprosy this way? Where do people
get that concept from? Here at Km 81 we have asked ourselves this question many
times and we have also asked people this question. If we get to the bottom of
the issue, people often refer to the Bible as the source of this type of
The Law of Moses commands that: ¨If you ever have leprosy, you must tear
your clothes, leave your hair uncombed, cover the lower part of your face, and
go around shouting, I´m unclean! I´m
unclean! As long as you have the
disease, you are unclean and must live alone outside the camp¨ (Leviticus 13:
45-46). At first glance, this passage suggests that we should have nothing to
do with someone who has leprosy.
However, before we take action, we should ask: Is this law really about
people who have leprosy? The most important feature of leprosy is loss of
sensitivity. If we read the description in Leviticus 13, there is no reference
to the lack of sensitivity. Therefore, we can say with many Bible scholars that
it refers to different skin diseases and not exclusively to leprosy. This
clarifies the meaning of the word leprosy in the Bible, but maybe it still does
not help us know how to treat a person with leprosy.
Christians follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us how to treat people who are
marginalized and excluded. Jesus did not change the law, but he showed what
really mattered. In Luke 5:12-14, we read that Jesus touched a man with leprosy,
declares him clean and heals him. But then he sends the man to the priest.
Jesus does so because the priest was the only person who could declare a person
with leprosy clean. This means that the former ¨leper¨ could return to his
family, his job, his community, etc. For Jesus, it is important to restore and
to heal this person. But it is equally important that this person can return to
his place in society again. In Matthew 10:8 a, Jesus sends his disciples to ¨heal
the sick and cleanse the lepers¨. So, it's not just the disease, but also the
social exclusion that needs to be dealt with. Jesus wants us to commit, so that
in our society there will be no people who are rejected as unclean or
untouchable. In this sense, we are very happy that we could help Elisa. We pray
that God will use each person who reads this reflection to change their
community. Only then will we see a society in which there will be no rejection,
marginalization, discrimination and stigma. Instead, we will see that each person is made
in the image of God and that everybody has their place within the community.
Note: A practical step
you can take to combat discrimination and stigma is watching your language. The
word ¨leper¨ is derogatory and discriminatory. No one wants to be labeled only
by the illness or condition one has. You can say ¨leprosy patient¨ or ¨person
affected by leprosy¨. Please also educate your family, acquaintances,
colleagues, neighbors etc. about this.