From The New York Times:
Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German-born medical missionary who was hailed as the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan” for her pivotal role in containing leprosy there, died on Thursday in a hospital in Karachi. She was 87.
Her death was announced by Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi, who said she would receive a state funeral. She had kidney and heart disease.
“Dr. Ruth came to Pakistan here at the dawn of a young nation, looking to make lives better for those afflicted by disease, and in doing so, found herself a home,” Mr. Abbasi said. Although she was born in Germany, he added, “her heart was always in Pakistan.”
Leprosy, a disfiguring and stigmatizing ailment also known as Hansen’s disease, can now be prevented and even cured after early diagnosis.
Less than four decades after Dr. Pfau (pronounced fow) began her campaign to contain leprosy, a mildly contagious bacterial infection, the World Health Organization declared it under control in Pakistan in 1996, ahead of most other Asian countries (although several hundred new cases are still reported there annually).
Dr. Pfau, who had converted to Roman Catholicism and become a nun, discovered her calling to help lepers coincidentally.
In 1960, she was waylaid in Pakistan by a passport foul-up en route to a posting in India by her Roman Catholic order, the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. By chance, she visited a leper colony in Karachi, where she met one of the thousands of Pakistani patients afflicted with the disease.
“He must have been my age — I was at this time not yet 30 — and he crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal,” she told the BBC in 2010, “as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog.”
The encounter stunned her.
“I could not believe that humans could live in such conditions,” she told the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune in 2014. “That one visit, the sights I saw during it, made me make a key life decision.”
And there is this, about her vocation:
At college, after meeting an elderly Christian concentration camp survivor who had devoted the rest of her life to preaching love and forgiveness, she rejected a marriage proposal from a fellow student. She was baptized in the evangelical tradition, converted to Catholicism and joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary in 1957.
“When you receive such a calling, you cannot turn it down, for it is not you who has made the choice,” she told The Express Tribune. “For it is not you who has made the choice. God has chosen you for himself.”
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her…