Monday, February 11, 2019


As readers know I am always on the hunt for new saints and saints to be proclaimed by the Church. Having a great devotion to St. Marianne of Molokai, I was fascinated to learn of a French couple, both up for canonization, who gave their lives to the lepers in Africa.

SERVANTS of GOD MADELEINE and RAOUL FOLLEREAU, met when they were 15 years old.  Madeleine Boudou was born in Nevers in 1902 and Raoul in  1903.  They were married in 1925. They had 30 years together, being inseparable, always together as one in their work.

At the age of 17 Raoul  published “Book of Love”, centered on the phrase “Being happy is to make others happy.” It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 35 languages. Being a journalist, Raoul was sent as a special envoy of the French newspaper La Nation to follow in the footsteps of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. 

He spent a time of solitude in Tamanrasset, Algeria, a city surrounded by desert among the Tuareg people. Here he heard the voice of Bl. Charles.  When he returned to France, he  had no doubt he and Madeleine would devote their lives to lepers. But after a few years Europe was taken over by Nazi madness.

Raoul was a celebrity: a writer, a poet, and journalist. He had always professed his Catholic faith and his anti-Nazi beliefs openly, to the point of publicly describing Hitler as an “antichrist.” He went into hiding like many in the French resistance, and sought shelter in a convent of nuns on the outskirts of Lyon. He was the gardener, but he continued to work for “his lepers.”

As the war raged on, in 1942 he launched his “first crusade:” an initiative of solidarity called “The hour of the poor.” Over the next few years, others campaigns followed: “Christmas of Fr. Foucauld,” in which he invited people to donate for children in need, “The shoe of the leper,” the “Strike of egoism” and “The day of the leper.” Thanks to his charisma and tenacity, these initiatives enjoyed incredible success.

After World War II, Raoul and Madeleine  traveled from Africa to Asia, stopping at several islands in the Indian Ocean to fully understand the harrowing reality of the lepers: “In the 20th century of Christianity I found lepers in jail, locked up in mental hospitals, buried in desecrated cemeteries and confined in the desert with barbed wire, search lights and machine guns. I have seen their wounds covered with flies, their contaminated hovels, their guards with rifles. I have seen an unimaginable world of horror, sorrow and despair.”

In 1953, with money they had gathered by participating in many conferences around the world, the City of Lepers was inaugurated in Adzopé in the Ivory Coast. It was made up of houses built in the forest, laboratories, a radio station and cinema. Millions of other lepers around the world would also be helped in the years that followed.

In 1968, Roual managed to get 4 million people involved, especially young people, to ask the UN to donate what would be “the cost of a day of war for peace,” and USA and USSR to donate the cost of a bomber to fight leprosy.

The request was ignored, but Roual’s  numbers were impressive: he cured and healed a million lepers; he traveled two million miles to collect millions of dollars for them. Thanks to his dedication, the wounds of leprosy have been diminished.

In all his work, Raoul always had Madeleine at his side as secretary, assistant, counselor — a pure, loving presence. They continually traveled together.

“When you are in two, you are invincible,” said Raoul. He never missed a chance to recall that he could do so only because she was at his side.

Raoul Follereau died in 1977, Madeleine Boudou in 1991. The beatification process began for each separately some years ago. In addition to the great work for lepers, which continues today, the love between those two is a beautiful testament they left. It was their mutual love that guided Follereau’s work. It made him understand that the world needs bread, but also tenderness.

The work of Raoul and Madeleine Follereau lives on through dozens
of organizations around the world. Since 1961, the activity of Raoul Follereau
on behalf of leprosy sufferers in the southern part of the world is continued
by the Italian Association Friends of Raoul Follereau.

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