"The clergy have not been spared by HIV and AIDS, the Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Rev. Bernard Malango, stated earlier this year . Officiating at the Church's strategic planning workshop on HIV/AIDS under the theme `Generation Born Without AIDS', Archbishop Malango said the Church had not been spared by HIV as some clergy were dying from the disease".
While attending a meeting of MISSIO, the Mission Commission of the Anglican Communion, in Harare, Zimbabwe, in April 1999, the author attended the funeral of an AIDS victim with the Rev. Petros Nyatsanza. The man who died was pre-deceased by his wife and infant daughter, all victims of AIDS.
The Advent 1996 issue of the International Anglican Family Network "tells of just a few of the projects, linked with churches, which are trying to alleviate the suffering and halt the spread of the disease. In this terrible situation there are signs of hope." Article includes reports from 12 different countries.
The author, a librarian and Volunteer in Mission from the diocese of Montreal, is working at Newton Theological College, in Papua New Guinea. She describes a powerful speaker at the College. "Fr. Nicholas (Anglican priest) from Zimbabwe, who was doing a training workshop on AIDS/HIV. This man is training church people and teachers by telling them about the Zimbabwean experience: how the church shut its eyes and ears to the virus, refused to talk about the sexual connection, refused to endorse the use of condoms and now is reaping the awful harvest of those decisions". She also describes how garbage disposal is handled at the College and the concern that the College has polluted a local water source. She will soon start teaching an advanced English course for the wives of students.
"The Diocese of Central Zimbabwe is planning an extensive food relief programme as the region is suffering a fourth year of major food shortages." The diocese set up extensive HIV/AIDS programmes in 2003. An average of "two parishioners die of AIDS every month per parish. This translates into three people every day." Mr. Peter Kwaramba is the diocesan communications officer and also in charge of the St. Patrick's HIV/AIDS action programme also known as PATHAID. The programme works for "HIV/AIDS prevention, but also to deal with its contingent problems, including support for the terminally ill, orphaned and marginalised children, and for families in general. `The project sees HIV/AIDS as a developmental problem and tackles it prevention, care and support ... with empowerment ... spiritual and economic', said Mr. Kwaramba. The only problem with ensuring the project worked, he added, was a lack of funds and a vehicle".
A meditation by the now retired bishop of Manicaland, Zimbabwe. A reflection on Mark chapter 15, verses 9-14, the persecution and suffering of Christ because he was not one of the powerful and threatened them with his love for the poor and powerless. "As we know the same violence that nailed Jesus to the cross in still prevalent in our world even today. It has many forms and can be physical as well as verbal .... HIV and AIDS is claiming lots of lives in Zimbabwe today. Should anyone be stoned to death because of helping the infected or affected, for instance the orphans ? Should anyone be harassed or beaten up because she/he has offered food to a hungry family ? Indeed we have heard voices saying time and again: Do not love or care for them because they are not 'one of us'. Whenever an act of violence is committed, the perpetrators appear to be victorious. But history has shown us again and again that perpetrators of violence always become the losers in the end. Jesus appeared to be a victim but today we celebrate his victory of the resurrection ...".
December 01, 2009 - An interview with the Rev. Patricia Sawo, a church leader and mother living with HIV in Kenya inspired Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to entitle his World Aids Day Message A Space for Hope. Patricia says of her church "My congregation knows about my status and people in my church know that this is a place where, if they come with HIV, they can be loved." The Archbishop says "when the Church is doing its job, it is providing space for people to face themselves, to be themselves, and to cope with the future."
On my trip to Burundi in February, I saw numerous examples of that kind of space. Let me cite just two. In the heart of the city of Bujumbura there is an HIV/AIDS clinic. Above the main entrance of the administration building is a sign stating that the building was renovated though a gift of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) of the Anglican Church of Canada. That gift inspired other churches in the city to make contributions to expand the services of this clinic which serves teens and young adults who have been orphaned through AIDS. Most of them live on the street and their life is very rough. The clinic is a haven where they can learn about HIV/AIDS, get tested and if necessary receive treatment and counseling. As the Archbishop says, they can "face themselves, be themselves, and cope with the future."
Up in the hills, "in the bush" as Burundians say, in the village of Bitare, I and Cheryl Curtis (Executive Director of PWRDF) and Maureen Bailey (Youth Council, PWRDF) were invited to assist local people in laying the foundation stone for a new HIV/AIDS clinic. It was very humbling to kneel down and share in that work as hundreds of people looked on and sang and prayed for God's blessing on this project. The building is now complete and providing services to hundreds of people in Bitare and a number of surrounding villages. Individuals and families are feeling support and care. Lives are being changed and hope is rising like the glory of a new day.
This coming Sunday, the second in Advent, I ask that throughout the Church, prayers of special intent for those living with HIV/AIDS be included in the Prayers of the People. Pray for their caregivers and for their doctors and nurses and clergy. Pray especially for the work of the Mother's Union in Africa and their deep and steadfast commitment to helping those who are living with AIDS and those who have been widowed and orphaned through AIDS, and those who are caring for their grandchildren. Pray for those engaged in education about healthy sexuality and the prevention of AIDS. And as we pray for the eradication of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, pray also for that "space" the Church is called to provide where people can be welcomed and free to face themselves and be themselves without fear of rejection; where through loving care and support they can cope with their future. This calling is after the very example of Our Lord who reached out and "touched" (Mark 1: 40-41) the sick with love and mercy.
I encourage one and all to pray, to support the continuing work with HIV/AIDS, and to stand with all those who are pressuring world leaders, in the words of one of the Millennium Development Goals, "to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases." I issue this call in the name of him whose Advent sets us free, whose love brings healing and hope to all.