Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday.
In today’s Gospel selection we have from St. John, we hear Jesus say,
I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep (John 10: 11-15).
In the more than 2,000-year history of Catholic Christianity, there have been tens of thousands of martyrs who have given their lives for the Faith. But to be a good shepherd, one does have to be a martyr. One can serve the Lord with a heart filled with love and fidelity without being killed for it. That is what we see in the amazing life of a woman from Germany who fell in love with forsaken lepers of Pakistan. Her name was Ruth Pfau.
Ruth Pfau was born in Leipzig, German on September 9, 1929 to Lutheran parents. She had four sisters and one brother.
During World War II, bombs destroyed her home. After the Soviet Union invaded East Germany, Ruth’s family escaped to West Germany.
In the 1950s, Ruth studied medicine at the University of Mainz and became a physician. In 1951, she was baptized as an Evangelical Protestant, but in 1953, she became a Catholic Christian.
In 1957, Ruth joined a religious congregation of women called the Daughters of the Heart of Mary in Paris, France.
In 1960, her Order sent Sr. Ruth to work in southern India. However, on her journey to India, she became stranded in Pakistan because of a problem with her passport. By chance, she visited a leper colony in Karachi, the capital of Pakistan. In the leper colony, Sr. Ruth met thousands of Pakistani lepers.
A young leper who was about her own age – 30 – touched her heart and spirit in a very special way. The young man was crawling on his hands and feet into the dispensary, acting as if this were completely normal. Sr. Ruth could not imagine that human beings could live in such conditions, crawling in the slime and dirt like a dog.
The sights and suffering Sr. Ruth saw in Karachi changed the direction of her life. Right then and there, Sr. Ruth decided to stay in Pakistan and serve the lepers. She stayed for the next 57 years.
First, Sr. Ruth joined the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center that was opened in 1956 in the Karachi slums and named after the founder of the nuns who ran it. Soon, the Center became the center of a hub of 157 medical centers that treated tens of thousands of Pakistani lepers.
When scientists discovered the treatment for leprosy, known as Hansen’s Disease, Sr. Ruth and other physicians began to treat patients with tuberculosis, blindness, and other diseases caused by land mines in war-torn Afghanistan.
Sr. Ruth Pfau saw a problem, and she knew that as a physician, she could use her skills to help solve the problem. During her time serving the lepers of Pakistan, Sr. Ruth wrote some books about her experiences. One of them, To Light a Candle, was translated into English.
Sr. Ruth rejected the word “retirement” from her vocabulary. She wrote, “I don’t use the word ‘retirement.’ It sounds as if you had completed everything, as if life was over and the world was in order.” Sr. Ruth died peacefully on August 10, 2017 in Karachi, Pakistan. The government of Pakistan gave her a state funeral, the first ever for a non-Muslim person, in its history.
Sr. Ruth received many honors in her life, and she became known as the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan.” Respected by both Muslims and Christians, the government of Pakistan announced that it was changing the name of the Civil Hospital Karachi to the Dr. Ruth Pfau Hospital in to acknowledge “selfless services of the late social servant.”
From the Scripture and story of Sr. Ruth Pfau, we learn about the vocation of shepherd. Shepherds serve their flock out of love and devotion. And basically all of us are called to this vocation.
Parents are called to shepherd the domestic church, also known as the “family” or “home.” Older brothers and sisters are called to shepherd their young siblings. Even little kids shepherd their pets and dolls. Single adults, like Sr. Ruth Pfau, are called to shepherd those in need.
In the Catholic Church, the pope shepherds the Church on Earth, bishops shepherd dioceses, and priests shepherd parishes.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we shepherd those entrusted to us.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2018.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Ruth Pfau.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 13 April 2018.
- Sam Roberts, “Dr. Ruth Pfau, Savior of Lepers of Pakistan, Dies at 87,” Asia
Pacific, New York Times, August 15, 2007.