"And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him: 'If you will, you can make me clean'". At this request Jesus "stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him: 'I will; be clean'. And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean" (Mk. 1, 40-42).
By touching the leper's sores with his hand, Jesus knocked down the barrier separating the untouchables from the human community, and by this miraculous cure he opened a path of hope that religion and science have to follow. Neither for the one nor for the other can any person henceforth be called unclean, but every individual will have to be respected and helped to regain the good health worthy of the human person.
The sense of universal brotherhood proclaimed by the Gospel evoked from followers of every faith a generous eagerness to assist sufferers from leprosy, and leper colonies and hospitals were set up in every part of the world. Among the apostles of the lepers who appeared among the Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, I cannot fail to mention Father Damien De Veuster of the Picpus Fathers, who has been honored throughout the world as the most generous example of Christian charity towards lepers. Together with him I wish also to mention among the lay apostles Marcello Candia, who made a total gift of himself and his resources to the sufferers from this disease.
However, the care given by generous volunteers, and the institutions subsequently set up by governments, could not have been effective on the health-care level had not science offered and provided means and methods of diagnosis and therapy.
As in every other field, so in the sphere of the treatment of the widely differing forms of disease, feelings of brotherhood and scientific research link hands in order to rescue humanity from its needs and afflictions. The help of charitable volunteers and the scientist's work both call for powerful spiritual energies. Scientific research is not only a magnificent use of the mind; in the words of my predecessor Paul VI, in a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, it also demands "the exercise of lofty moral virtues, which confer upon the scientist the aspect and merit of an ascetic, sometimes of a hero, to whom humanity must pay a great tribute of praise and gratitude" (Paul VI).
Eminent moral virtues and the assistance of the Spirit are needed by the scientist who not only devotes himself to research but who also wishes to exercise the charity of knowledge. When reason, tired and perhaps disillusioned in the efforts of study, seems to give in to the temptation of abandoning its undertaking, the Spirit comes to the aid of those who wish heroically to persist in the efforts they are making for love of neighbor, and at the highest point of the mind he lights a spark that brings a sudden intuition of the truth, whence research resumes its path and reaches the longed-for discovery.