Ruth Pfau worked for decades to eradicate leprosy in Pakistan
Pakistan's national flag will fly at half-staff in her honor
A German nun known as “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa” is to be buried Saturday in a state funeral in the port city of Karachi – a first for a Christian woman in the predominantly Muslim country.
Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau died August 10 after dedicating more than half a century to working to eradicate leprosy, tuberculosis and other diseases in Pakistan. She was 87.
In a statement released on her death, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi praised Pfao for her “selfless and unmatched services for the eradication of leprosy” in his country and that through her years of service, Pfau proved that “humanity knows no boundaries.”
“She is the first person in Pakistan’s history of the Christian faith to have a state funeral,” said Cecil S. Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace.
Her funeral is scheduled to take place at Karachi’s St Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday morning. The Pakistani military is expected to accompany her funeral cortege and there will also be a 21-gun salute in her honor.
To commemorate her death, the national flag of Pakistan will also fly at half-staff across the country.
Pfau arrived in Karachi in 1960 en route to India and volunteered at a local leprosy colony. While she was there, she became depressed at the state of the care given to patients whose hands and feet she said had become “nutritional supplement for the rats,” according to the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre’s (MALC) website.
Pfau decided to stay in Pakistan as a health care worker and her efforts in organizing a proper hospital building for the colony resulted in the creation of the first Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, in Karachi.
Thanks to the work of Pfau and her center, in 1996, Pakistan was able to bring leprosy under control – one of the first Asian countries to do so. Her organization now runs 157 leprosy control centers, with more than 800 staff members, according to MALC.
Foreign lady on a donkey
Born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1929, Pfau had seen firsthand the devastation wrought by World War II. She attributed her desire to become a doctor and a healer to this experience.
Ainee Shehzad, a member of the MALC board of trustees who worked with Pfau for 25 years, told CNN that she was “one of the most inspirational” people she had ever met.
Shehzad said Pfau was undeterred in her quest to help the underprivileged and that she would go to the “remotest parts of Pakistan to help, a foreign lady heading on donkeyback to places even cars couldn’t reach.”
That dedication to heal brought Pfau honors from all over the world, including from Pakistan, her adopted homeland. In 1989, she was presented the Hilal-i-Pakistan, the country’s second-highest civilian award.