Focus on HIV, AIDS ministries urged - Catholic Courier

Focus on HIV, AIDS ministries urged

BUFFALO — Leaders at the 10th National Black Catholic Congress called for a focus on HIV/AIDS ministries to help slow the disease’s spread in the black community.

Michael Scott, associate director of the District of Columbia Catholic Conference, which represents the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., on public-policy issues, said misconceptions still abound about HIV and AIDS.

He noted that black adults and adolescents in the United States have a rate of AIDS diagnoses that is 10 times higher than whites and three times higher than Hispanics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although blacks made up 13 percent of the U.S. population in the 2000 Census, in 2005 they accounted for 49 percent of the new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in states that reported new cases.

“HIV/AIDS is largely preventable,” Scott said, speaking during the congress’ July 14 workshop “Mobilizing Black Catholic Parishes Around HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention.”

The congress’s HIV/AIDS commission has set four main priorities for slowing the spread of the disease: increasing involvement of priests, deacons and the laity in HIV/AIDS ministry and mobilizing parish support for those infected with or affected by the disease; advocating for the U.S. bishops to include HIV and AIDS on its list of issues of concern before the U.S. Congress; bring together those on the front lines to share ideas; and foster chastity education in elementary, middle and high school.

“HIV/AIDS is out of sight, out of mind for many people,” Scott said. “We need to promote early testing and medical intervention to arrest the pattern of infection and death.”

Since Scott said HIV/AIDS ministries often must battle denial and ignorance, stigmas, apathy, complacency, a lack of support, confusion and opposition to church teaching, he gave participants tips on how to expand their ministries and avoid common pitfalls.

First, he said it is important for HIV/AIDS ministries and their partnering organizations to conform to church teachings and to not support any organizations that are not in conformity with these teachings.

For example, he said that Catholic ministries and their affiliates should promote chastity and abstinence, not condom use or needle exchanges. He suggested using Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body concept as a way to discuss this with parishioners, and said there are a host of books available that explore this theological viewpoint.

“HIV/AIDS ministry is a ministry that is Christ’s ministry, not your will,” Scott said.

Prevention messages don’t just have to come from an HIV/AIDS ministry, Scott noted, but also could be incorporated into health and social-service ministries or social-justice groups. He suggested that such organizations as St. Vincent de Paul societies, Ladies of Charity, sodalities or Holy Name societies, and Knights of Columbus or young-adult groups might be willing to become engaged in the ministry in some way.

He said many such organizations might support a Mass focused on AIDS, such as a World AIDS Day Mass, or homilists might incorporate messages about AIDS throughout the year.

He suggested developing devotions on the theme of HIV/AIDS, such as a rosary or Stations of the Cross, hosting an anointing of the sick, conducting regular holy hours or novenas for the sick, observing a week of prayer, organizing an annual prayer breakfast, creating a memorial quilt, and hanging posters featuring HIV/AIDS messages from Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II.

He suggested getting youths involved in education efforts through character-based abstinence program, some of which may be available from national organizations, dioceses or Catholic school boards. Messages that are on posters or included in bulletin inserts should be appropriate for all ages, he said.

“There’s a time and a place for education, but it’s not every time and place,” Scott remarked.

Parishes also should promote the work that Catholic organizations are doing to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide, he said.

“The Catholic Church provides 27 percent of all the AIDS care worldwide,” Scott noted.

He said parishes could help the poor and vulnerable through efforts such as a Communion ministry, ministries to those who are sick or shut in, collections for people with HIV and AIDS, and supporting AIDS service organizations.

Parishioners also could advocate for social justice for those with HIV/AIDS through legislation supported by state Catholic conferences, he said. Scott also called for parishes to support such local, national and international programs as Catholic Relief Services that serve people with HIV/AIDS and their family members, including the millions of young, African AIDS orphans. To accomplish this, he suggested parishioners record a song or CD, organize a gospel concert, host a basketball tournament or organize a walk.

“By 2010 there will be 20 million AIDS orphans throughout Africa,” Scott noted.

One participant involved in an HIV/AIDS ministry mentioned during the question-and-answer portion of the workshop that she has seen an increase in people contracting HIV in prison as a result of sexual activity, sexual assaults and drug use. Once released, the ex-offender may pass the virus on to a wife, who may not realize she’s been infected, the woman said. Her experience also is echoed by statistics from the CDC, which states inmates are nearly five times more likely to have HIV than the general U.S. population.

Workshop presenters said although many prisons test inmates for HIV before they enter prison, few get tested when they leave. They urged more routine testing to de-emphasize where and how the virus is contracted and to place the emphasis on treatments that prolong a person’s life.

“One of the things we need to do as a community is to stop worrying about how we got it,” said Mary Leisring, the workshop’s moderator and director of the office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver. “We’ve got to say that we’ve got to do something about it. If you are tested, then something can be done.”

Following the presentation, Theresa Ross, a parishioner of St. Peter Claver Church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said some in the black community still mistakenly believe that AIDS strikes only homosexuals.

“I think that’s a stigma that people need to be educated on,” Ross said.

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