She is known as “the angel of Karachi”, “mother of persons affected by leprosy”, and even as “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”. This heroic person is someone who has never sought out the spotlight for herself but spends every waking hour defending those who are ignored and forgotten.
Dr. Pfau was never a stranger to struggles and atrocity. She was born in Leipzig, Germany on 9th September 1929. Being a German during World War II, gave her a front row seat to the horrors committed by the Nazi’s. The genocide and massacre she witnessed inspired her to become a doctor in the hopes of helping others. After the end of the War she made the dangerous trek from communist East Germany to Democratic West Germany in order to pursue medical education. During her time in the medical school she became exposed to the various groups within Christianity.
Dr. Pfau’s skills as a doctor made her an asset to the Order’s various charity missions. In 1960 she was given an assignment to help with the healthcare of the poor in Bombay, India. However, due to visa problems she was stopped over in Pakistan in the urban city of Karachi. It was there that her life changed forever. While in Karachi, Dr. Pfau and her companion nun visited a leper beggar colony in the less desirable part of the city. It was an experience that she will never forget. She later recalls the event, “I felt saddened when I saw people living in caves, crawling like animals. They had compromised with their faith but it was not their fate, they deserved a much better and happier life.” Seeing the slum-like conditions of the colony, Dr. Pfau realized that God had stopped her over in Karachi for a reason and that her real missions was to help those unfortunate and vulnerable souls whose eyes she had looked into only to find God looking back at her.
Dr. Pfau has now spent over half a century in Pakistan. She has trained many doctors and volunteers in leprosy care and has even helped create the Mary Adelaide Leprosy Centre which works all over the country to provide care for leprosy patients. Now, although the story of how she became a nun and help the lepers in Pakistan was not as exciting as the typical call stories of the prophets it was all Dr. Pfau needed to realize her mission in life. She never hesitated to help the lepers after she met them. She says that “Well if it doesn't hit you the first time, I don’t think it will ever hit you.”
She always treats her fellow human beings with dignity and respect regardless of their situation in life. She is someone who mourns for others when they are in need. She feels the pain of people when they are treated like second-class citizens because of their leprosy. Dr. Pfau is also someone who is poor in spirit. She is always donating her time and effort to help those in need at the leprosy colony. She also does not use her fame to increase her own standard of living but to help those who really need it. For example, when she had an interview with a prominent Pakistani new channel Geo, she spent the bulk of the time promoting care for leprosy instead of talking about herself. Every time she receives an award, she always mentions her patients first. She uses her spotlight to increase the attention on the leprosy patients so that they can also have a voice. She is someone who treats her patients with gentleness and compassion and works hard to support the lives of others by offering medical care, food and funds. Dr. Pfau has always promoted the life of her patients and refuses to allow them to suffer. She does not crave material possessions, for she knows that God is the greatest treasure.
Dr. Pfau does not always travel the easier path; in fact, she usually chooses the road less traveled because she knows that while it is not easy being Catholic, in the end it will pay off. For example, she knew beforehand that the life of a nun meant certain sacrifices and hardships but she knew that the light at the end of the tunnel was God and to reach that light she was going to have to crawl through the narrow tunnel. She did not use her medical training to live the comfortable life most doctors do. Instead she used it to help enhance the lives of those that had next to nothing.
Although Dr. Pfau was never someone who went out and actively sought out the spotlight her courageous work could not go unaccredited. She has been given various awards throughout her life to commend her for her excellent work. A few awards she won are-Order of the Cross in 1968 from Germany, and honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2004 from Aga Khan University, and the prestigious “Nishan-i-quaid-i-Azam Award” presented to her by the President of Pakistan in 2011.
Through her hard work, Dr. Pfau made Pakistan, a nation considered sub-standard when compared to other great nations in Asia, the first country in the continent to have leprosy controlled.
She is a light of hope in a dark world for many. Pakistan is blessed for having her !