Hospital chaplain travels to India to meet leprosy patients

Rev Gary Kennedy, hospital chaplain at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, says he has returned ‘encouraged’ and ‘inspired’ after visiting two leprosy hospitals in India.

Little did Rev Kennedy, 54, know when he went to Greenbelt festival in August that he would meet a team from The Leprosy Mission and end up travelling to West Bengal to witness the effects of leprosy, a devastating disease of poverty.

Rev Kennedy, who lives in Rawtenstall, is no stranger to working with those living in poverty, both in his work with Church Action on Poverty and having previously travelled to Nepal with International Nepal Fellowship. He has also worked with the homeless in the UK and Poland and with orphans in Bulgaria.

The dad-of-three said: “My time in India was really so inspiring and I am planning to give talks in churches across the Greater Manchester area to tell people all about what I have seen.

“It really was so encouraging. From previous experience, I was expecting to see people in hospital debilitated by leprosy. And whilst leprosy is desperately disabling, if left untreated, and whilst there is still so much stigma surrounding the disease, there was also so much joy and hope, because it can be treated effectively if caught early .”

He continued: “I met a beautiful young woman who had lost her fingers and toes as a result of leprosy. She had the most harrowing story of being outcast by her family because she had leprosy. They had actually set fire to her and chased her out of her home with knives and yet, having found leprosy hospital, in Purulia, she discovered an incredible creativity within her, and could even sew despite having no fingers.

"Nothing would deter her. She said she wanted to sell her creations, so I asked to buy a rug that she had made and she was overjoyed that she could produce something that I would want.”

Rev Kennedy said his job had helped prepare him to meet leprosy patients in India.

“My work brings me into contact with HIV patients, who years ago also had the stigma which surrounds leprosy in India today,” he said.

“People become so marginalised. The Leprosy Mission has mercy homes for older people who cannot look after themselves. They are homes for people who have faced terrible rejection. It’s not luxurious accommodation, but they have people who care amazingly for them, and they do tasks such as gardening, if they can, which gives them some self-worth and makes them feel valued.

“We find God everywhere: there isn’t a place where God isn’t. I have come back from India feeling like the people I have met have blessed me. I hope that in telling their stories I might also be some kind of blessing to them.”

Rev Kennedy previously worked for Broughton Team Ministry, in Salford, and St Simon and St Jude’s Church, in Bolton, prior to his role as hospital chaplain for Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.