You Raise Me Up.
The state funeral of Sr. Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German doctor, 87 years old, who came to Pakistan more than 50 years ago, and devoted her life to battling leprosy was held on August 19th 2017 in Karachi. She was a member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary Congregation. It was after the horrors of World War II in her native Germany that she decided to dedicate her life to serving humanity, becoming a doctor and joining the Daughters of the Heart of Mary Congregation. She set up 157 leprosy clinics across the country which have treated tens of thousands of patients. Due to her selfless efforts, Pakistan was declared ‘leprosy-free’ in 1996 by the World Health Organization. Dr. Ruth founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) to serve the leprosy patients in Pakistan.
This poster greeted everyone who entered the gate of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Karachi to attend Dr. Ruth’s funeral. Dr Pfau used to say: “Love will have the last word.” and love was indeed in abundance at the state funeral as people expressed their feelings for this great lady, who was awarded Pakistan’s citizenship besides national awards like the Hilal-i-Imtiaz and Hilal-i-Pakistan.
This was the third state funeral to have ever taken place in Pakistan since its foundation in 1947. The first was for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the Nation and then the second was last year for the late renowned and much-loved father of the poor, Abdul Sattar Edhi and now Dr. Ruth is the third civilian to receive such an honour. Dr Ruth’s state funeral was performed with national honours at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Karachi. The flag of Vatican City and the National flag remained at half-mast as her body, placed on a gun carriage, was brought to the entrance of St Patrick’s Cathedral where she was honoured with a 19-gun salute. The coffin was draped in the national flag of Pakistan and covered with rose petals.
Dr. Ruth Pfau’s coffin was followed closely by the two individuals she used to call her sons — MALC’s chief executive officer Mervyn Lobo and Mohammad Iqbal. Mr Lobo spoke in the church and said that Dr Pfau should not be remembered as the Mother Teresa of Pakistan. “She has her own identity; so please call her Ruth Pfau of Pakistan. Dr Pfau conquered not only leprosy by bringing it under control in Pakistan, she also conquered the hearts and souls of the people of Pakistan,” he said. “She was a visionary leader with her heart in the right place. Even in the later part of her life she worked like there was no tomorrow.” Mohammad Iqbal worked with her for 40 years and was moved to tears as he spoke telling us that she asked him to take her out of the hospital, which he did.
The Archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts in the homily spoke about a girl born to Protestant parents who later became a Catholic nun and in 1957 was on her way to India when she stopped over in Karachi to apply for an Indian visa. While waiting for the paperwork she went to a lepers’ colony at McLeod Road, and that changed the direction of her life. People see missionaries as people who convert others but here was this German who after coming here was no longer a German; she was a Pakistani as she cared for the leprosy patients here. Dr Pfau used to say that God does not create rejects. Not only did she work with leprosy patients, she also helped patients suffering from tuberculosis and blindness, and while doing so she created a beautiful harmony of cultures and faiths at MALC. He said that he would always remember a black car pulling up into the yard of the St Patrick’s Cathedral for the 6a.m. service. Dr Pfau had fractured her arm at an Afghan camp a few months ago and was too weak to get out of her car but she nonetheless attended the service while sitting in her car.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Dr. Pfau “may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan. Dr. Ruth came to Pakistan here at the dawn of a young nation, looking to make lives better for those afflicted by disease, and in doing so, found herself a home. The entire nation is indebted to Ruth Pfau for her selflessness and unmatched services for eradication of leprosy.”
The Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah, along with his cabinet was also present at the burial. Following the state funeral, he announced the renaming of Civil Hospital Karachi to: “Dr Ruth K.M. Pfau, Civil Hospital Karachi“, and said that Dr Pfau was the pride of Sindh and the pride of Pakistan.”
Among the dignitaries who attended the burial of Pakistan’s humanitarian hero were President Mamnoon Hussain (below); Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Jawed Bajwa; Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman; Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Operations) Vice Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Sindh Governor Muhammad Zubair, IG Sindh, Corps Commander Karachi, DG Rangers.
When all the dignatries left, the people whose lives she touched came forward to her grave to pay their respects to the woman whom they loved. They came from all over Pakistan to bid her farewell as they knew from their encounters with her that God does not create any rejects. May she rest in peace. She raised many up, the most rejected in society and it was appropriate that the choir sang the hymn: ‘You Raise me up’ after Holy Communion.
May the Lord raise you up, Dr. Ruth to the fullness of life in Him.