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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

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Churches challenged to keep promises for action on HIV and AIDS


Press Release no. 4
By Frank Imhoff, Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
11 August 2006
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[Free photos accompany this article. See below for details.]

Keeping promises is an attribute of faith that Christians can and must apply as they respond to HIV and AIDS.  A panel of four speakers opened the ecumenical pre-conference, "Faith in Action: Keeping the Promise," today by challenging the 500 participants to assess their own work while advocating for people living with HIV and AIDS.

The ecumenical pre-conference (August 10-11) and an interfaith pre-conference (August 12) at the University of Toronto precede the 2006 International AIDS Conference (August 13-18) at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Sister Patricia Talone, vice president for mission services, Catholic Health Association, St. Louis, USA, recalled that children add emphasis to promises with "cross my heart and hope to die."  The phrase "contains an intuitive sense that giving one's word carries with it the essence - the life and life blood - of  who one is.  It is part of one's own identity," she said.

Talone outlined four aspects of "covenant" from Judeo-Christian scriptures that apply to the churches' ministry with people affected by HIV and AIDS.

First, God's relationship with God's creation is faithful.  Second, as children of God, "we must acknowledge that we are sisters and brothers," she said.  Third, God calls people of faith to give top priority to the poor, sick and vulnerable.  Fourth, God's covenant with people of faith "challenges each one to fulfill our part of the bargain."

"If our generation does not 'step up to the plate' and recognize and act on the fact that we are sisters and brothers to all who suffer," Talone said, "then we risk the loss of more than fortune, culture and a way of life.  We risk having our very human identity slip between our fingers."  She concluded, "Our faith demands more of us.  Our God demands more of us.  Our sisters and brothers who have gone before us demand more of us.  Our future demands more of us."

The Rev. Johannes Petrus Heath, general secretary, African Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+), Johannesburg, South Africa, said, "What we are talking about when we are relating to HIV and AIDS is so much a reflection of how faith communities are responding to who we are in terms of who God has called us to be.  HIV and AIDS have in so many senses simply given us a tool, a mirror, to look more closely at the way we relate to the world as a whole."

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"The faith community has the charge of being advocates.  We can advocate our governments; we can advocate civil structures; we can advocate health care systems," Heath said.  "But faith communities in and of ourselves have the ability to do so much more than simply advocate for other people to be doing the work," he said.

"We, the faith communities, are the people who are called by God to be the caregivers, the hands, the heart, the ears, the eyes, the feet of God in the world," Heath said.  "It is sadness that we still have to ask the question, 'What is it to keep the promise?'" he said.  "How is it that we move beyond the place of asking the question to putting policy into practice, because keeping the promise, for me, means being the heart of God in the world?"

Andy Seale, chief for civil society partnerships, Policy, Evidence and Partnerships Unit, the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), urged pre-conference participants to "not lose sight of what initially moved you to get involved in AIDS work.  Remind yourself of what or who it was that inspired you to start working on AIDS.  This knowledge can help you in turn to inspire others into action."

Seale described "UN+" - an organization of HIV positive employees of the United Nations.  "We are doctors, administrators, drivers, speech writers, security staff, directors, secretaries, protocol and logistics experts.  In short, we are at every level of the United Nations," he said.

"HIV positive people make a positive contribution to all aspects of society," Seale said.  "Whether you are developing workplace policies, liturgies or working to launch initiatives to tackle AIDS, I urge you to follow one important principle.  Please always actively involve people living with HIV in a meaningful way.  We can and do make a difference to the quality and effectiveness of AIDS work," he said.

The Rev. Adam Taylor, director of campaigns and organizing, Sojourners, Washington, D.C., used a biblical story to compare David's response to Goliath with the church's response to HIV and AIDS.  "God has already provided the resources," he said.  David found five smooth stones to slay Goliath.

"I want to give you five smooth stones," Taylor said.  First, the church must overcome its fear of "others."  Jesus ministered among the sex workers of his day, he said.  "The church has the message that can break the back of stigma."

The second "smooth stone" was the resources that the church has available for "compassion and charity."  Taylor said those resources could do more to build justice.  He urged the churches to use a third resource, their prophetic voice, to speak "on behalf of the dispossessed."

Churches, among others, have responded to HIV and AIDS with ABC - abstinence, being faithful and condoms, Taylor said.  A fourth "smooth stone" would be to move on to DEF - doctors, empowerment and faith, he said. And the fifth would be putting the international structure of the church behind the AIDS movement.

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"The AIDS movement has seen several victories, but this is not a moment for complacency.  We have so much more to do," Taylor said.

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Media Coverage

An Ecumenical Media Team will provide daily feature articles and press releases in English, with additional coverage in Spanish, French, and German; photos; video clips; audio/radio clips; a daily conference bulletin.

All material can be viewed and downloaded free of charge at: http://www.e-alliance.ch/iac_2006.jsp

Sign up to receive the press releases and articles daily by email: http://www.e-alliance.ch/iac06_bulletin.jsp

The Ecumenical Media Team can also assist in setting up interviews and serving as a resource for information on faith-based efforts on HIV and AIDS. Contact the team at:

Email:  media@e-alliance.ch

Mobile: +1 416 825 2256

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Sent by: Sara Speicher
Communication Consultant
Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
http://www.e-alliance.ch

Phone: +44 1524 727 651
Fax: +44 1524 727 829
Email: sspeicher@e-alliance.ch

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