Before Sister Ruth Pfau arrived in Pakistan in the 1960s, life for leprosy victims in the country was filled with suffering and ostracization. In addition to the discomfort of the disfiguring disease itself, victims would often be isolated from society by others who feared catching the illness.
But the work of Sister Pfau – a German-born Catholic missionary who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan – transformed the lives of thousands of victims, making such an impact in the country that she became known as the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan.”
“It was due to her endless struggle that Pakistan defeated leprosy,” the German Consulate in Karachi said on Facebook after Sr. Pfau’s death in 2017.
Sr. Pfau was born in Leipzig in 1929, but her childhood home was destroyed by bombing during World War II. After the war, her family escaped the communist regime in East Germany and moved to West Germany, where Sr. Pfau studied medicine.
After joining the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, Sr. Pfau was sent to India to join a mission in 1960. On her way there, she was held up due to visa issues for some time in Karachi, where she first encountered leprosy, an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body.