ISLAMABAD – Nuns, senior government officials, soldiers and former patients gathered in the southern port city of Karachi on Saturday to bid their final farewells to German medical missionary Ruth Pfau who devoted her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan and passed away last week at 87 years of age.
The Pakistani flag was flown Saturday at half-mast to bid a last farewell to Pfau at Karachi’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where delegations of all religions, from Muslims to Sikhs, Christians and Hindus, were gathered for the procession and funeral service.
“It is not only that she worked to fight leprosy but she also created harmony between different religions and cultures. She always said ‘it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness,’” recalled Archbishop Joseph Coutts during the funeral.
Pfau was buried in Gora cemetery in Karachi, the only Christian cemetery in the city.
The German nun is best known for her fight against leprosy in the Asian country, leading the National Leprosy Control Program in Pakistan and the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center (MALC), the organization that she co-founded.
In the 1950s, Pfau studied medicine in Germany. She then joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary and was assigned to go to India, via Karachi. However, because of visa problems, she remained in the financial capital of Pakistan, where she lived for 57 years.
In 1963, she founded the MALC with the opening of a clinic; five years later, she persuaded the Pakistani government to launch an anti-leprosy program throughout the country and then extended her treatment to those suffering from tuberculosis and blindness.
Three decades later, due to Pfau’s tireless efforts, the World Health Organization declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to be free of leprosy.
In recognition of her work, the government awarded Pfau Pakistani citizenship in 1988; in 1979 she was presented with the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, the second highest civilian award in the country; and also she received the Hilal-e-Pakistan, the highest civilian award granted in the Muslim nation, in 1989.