Today is World AIDS Day, an annual remembrance to raise awareness of this disease, as well as to remember those who have passed on because of it and those who persevere as they live with HIV/AIDS. In the Catholic world, there will be Masses, prayer services, and other religious events around the globe today. Because HIV/AIDS originally disproportionately affected gay men in the 1980s and 1990s, the LGBT community has continued to take a role in assisting with fundraising, awareness, care, and prevention education concerning this illness.
In the United Kingdom, one Catholic group has recently stepped up their work in regards to HIV/AIDS by releasing a series of videos and resources on their website. “Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support (CAPS) ,” a national organization based in London, described their initiative in a press release:
“CAPS have worked with the film maker, Kip Loades, to produce a number of short videos for this online, open access resource; www.positivefaith.net will offer advice and pastoral support for anyone concerned about or diagnosed with HIV. It will include tools for churches and schools to raise awareness of HIV and promote action locally, in a faith sensitive way.
“Chair of CAPS Vincent Manning said ‘This is not a project that wags its finger at the individual and sends them off to get tested for HIV, neither is it about blaming the church for lacking compassion, Positive Faith is about looking forward and offering practical help that empowers Christian people. As the lead provider of faith based peer support in the UK, CAPS has extensive knowledge and experience to address the issues at the intersection of Christian ministry and HIV with depth and nuance – we intend to save lives.’ “
The resources can help churches work on HIV prevention. For those living with HIV, materials supporting treatment and medical activity is provided. Perhaps most importantly because they are not provided by scientific and social organizations, Christian narratives around healing and God’s loving acceptance of everyone can help churches to become welcoming. And for those who have HIV/AIDS, Positive Faith can help to reduce stigma in church settings, as well as provide needed pastoral support.
The program was launched in October, at an event at which Archbishop Peter Smith, the Catholic archbishop of Southwark (London) joined with his Anglican counterpart, Bishop Christopher Chessun, to welcome people living with HIV, other Christians, theologians and public health sector professionals to Romero House in London.
Archbishop Smith stated:
“This project demonstrates the importance of taking faith seriously in matters of public health. Faith is an essential aspect of health and well=being for many people in many communities. Spiritual health and physical health are connected.
“The resources will be available to people of all faiths and none, and shows that the churches can be valuable partners in promoting public health and well-being in our communities.
“This project shows that we can learn a great deal from people living with HIV. They can bring so much to the church and to the public health sector if we are willing to involve them fully.”
America magazine reported on the remarks of Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, a consultor for the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, at the launch event of Positive Faith:
“Father Radcliffe spoke of the example of Jesus, who so often embraced people on the margins of society and restored them to the community. In one of the Positive Faith videos, he notes that, at our best, we in the church do the same.
“Yet we must ask, do we witness to God’s mercy and Christ’s radical inclusiveness? Father Radcliffe drew on Thomas Aquinas’s insight that ‘touch is the most human of all the senses.’
” ‘Touch is so important,’ he said. ‘Jesus was the person who reached out to touch people physically. So often his ministry began with touch and being unafraid to let himself be touched and hugged—remember you can see and not be seen, hear and not be heard, but you can’t touch without being touched.’ “
According to Church Times, in one of the “Positive Faith” videos, Radcliffe is quoted as saying:
“The challenge for the Church is to bring back people with HIV as full members of the community — not only for what they can receive, but for what they can give. God will not desert them.”
On this World AIDS Day, take a moment to pray and reflect how you and our church can respond better to those who are living with HIV/AIDS. One simple action to take is to visit www.positivefaith.net, view a video, and allow yourself to be transformed.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 1, 2017