Pakistan’s “Mother Teresa” given state funeral
Karachi: For the first time in Pakistan’s recent history, a Christian was honored with a state funeral.
Sister Doctor Ruth Katherine Martha Pfau, Pakistan’s “Mother Teresa,” was laid to rest on August 19 after she was given with full national honors.
The 87-year-old member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a physician, died on August 10
On August 18, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced a state funeral for the nun, who had become a symbol of selflessness and devotion to leprosy patients.
“The entire nation is indebted to Ruth Pfau for her selflessness and unmatched services for eradication of leprosy,” Abbasi said in a press release.
He added that Sister Pfau, through her dedication and “illustrious toil,” had proven that humanity has no boundaries.
Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain also paid tribute to the humanitarian, saying that “her great tradition of human service would be kept alive.” He further said that she lived in the prayers of all those who were cured from leprosy as a result of her efforts.
Armed forces personnel carried her casket into St Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi’s Saddar area on Saturday. The coffin was draped in the Pakistani flag and covered with rose petals, report agencies.
After her final rites at the church, she was laid to rest in Gora Qabaristan (white man’s cemetery), Karachi’s oldest graveyard.
Many state dignitaries, including President Mamnoon Hussain, attend the burial ceremony. Each of whom laid floral wreaths on her grave as a mark of respect.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had earlier announced a state funeral for Dr Pfau, saying: “The entire nation is indebted to Ruth Pfau for her selflessness and unmatched services for eradication of leprosy.”
Sr Pfau, who was German by birth, had been sent to Pakistan in 1960 by her congregation of nuns for a medical service for students. After witnessing the plight of leprosy patients, she decided to settle here. She was granted citizenship in 1988.
In 1979, she was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, the second highest civilian award of the country. In 1989, Sr Ruth was presented the Hilal-i-Pakistan for her services.
A notification issued by Atif Aziz, Sindh Law Deputy Secretary had said the “national flag shall fly at half-mast on Saturday 19 August, 2017.”
The World Health Organization set the year 2000 as the target for controlling leprosy. Pakistan achieved it four years earlier, in 1996, becoming the first country in Asia to have successfully controlled the spread of the disease – a goal the Catholic nun achieved almost single-handedly.
When she arrived in Pakistan in 1960, thousands of families were affected by leprosy, a disease then considered incurable. Family members used to drop their affected loved ones at the Lepers’ Colony in Karachi.
In 1963, Dr Pfau turned a dispensary at the Lepers’ Colony (which was set up by the Catholic Church) into a hospital, and brought it into the heart of Karachi. The hospital was named after the founder of the congregation, Marie Adelaide de Cicé.
In 1961, Dr Zarina Fazlebhoy, a dermatologist, became the first Pakistani citizen to join the team of pioneers. The first technicians’ course was started there in 1965.
In 1968, her hospital submitted its first proposal to the Pakistan government to set up a National Leprosy Control Programme that was eventually launched in 1984. A total of 175 leprosy treatment centers were set up across Pakistan to treat leprosy patients, of which 157 were run by her hospital and 18 by a sister organization, Aid to Leprosy Patients (ALP). Many healed patients were later inducted as employees at these centers.
The Government of Pakistan gave Dr Pfau honorary citizenship in 1988. She also received three of Pakistan’s highest honors – the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam in 1969, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 1979 and the Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam in 2011.
In 2004, Aga Khan University conferred upon her an honorary degree of “Doctor of Science.” She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
The German government conferred on her The Order of the Cross in 1968, the Commanders’ Cross of the Order of Merit with Star in 1985, and the Bambi Award in 2012.
The funeral was attended by members of civil society and hundreds of admirers. After dignitaries departed, the graveyard was thronged by thousands of citizens whose lives she had touched.
Martha Fernando, who worked with the nun, said the physician’s death was a great loss to humanity.
“There is no one like her and there won’t be any replacement to her. We pray to God to send people like her again to this world so that they can continue serving people,” she added.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has announced the renaming of Civil Hospital Karachi after Dr Ruth Pfau.
“Dr Pfau was the pride of Sindh and the pride of Pakistan,” Shah said.