2019 Traditional University Awards Ceremony at Ateneo de Manila University

Manila, Philippines

Father Villarin, President of the University, Father Cruz, Vice-President for University and Global Relations, Your Excellency Mr. Koji Haneda, Ambassador of Japan, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very happy to be back here at the Ateneo de Manila University today, where we continue our long-term partnership in educating leaders of the future. It is also good to see some of our scholars with us here. Today is a very special day and I humbly receive this prestigious degree (Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa) from Ateneo on my lifelong work to fight against leprosy, with gratitude.

In 2007, Ateneo supported us at an event to make an appeal to end stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. I was then moved deeply by an 11-year- old girl, who was cured of leprosy, and appealed strongly that “Discrimination can never be justified.”

I still remember my first visit more than 40 years ago to a leprosarium and meeting the persons affected by leprosy. They were abandoned by their families and society. So, it seemed to me that they had no hopes and dreams for the future. I will never forget that moment. Since then, the elimination of leprosy and its associated stigma and discrimination became my lifework.

Today, leprosy is curable with effective medicine, and early diagnosis and prompt treatment can prevent physical impairment. However, once affected, they lose opportunities for education, employment and marriage. Stigma and discrimination remain throughout their life.

In order to change this situation, I have been active in 120 countries and regions for four decades. I am grateful for the support from all who have worked with me over the years.

In Culion Island, here in the Philippines, a museum was built to preserve the history.
In New York, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution on the elimination of discrimination.
In the Vatican, an international symposium was co-hosted with the Roman Curia to think about the problem of discrimination.

These are just a few examples of my work to fight against leprosy.

Today, I receive this degree together with all those who have worked with me. Now, I am encouraged to take even further action in my remaining years. I am honored to be here at the Ateneo de Manila University today, and I look forward to your continued support and encouragement.

Thank you very much.