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The Church in Africa in Face of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

12/2/2003 - 6:00 AM PST

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“Our prayer is always full of hope”

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith,
Dear friends, fellow believers and all people of good will,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 1:3).

We, Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops of Africa and Madagascar greet you in faith and with warm affection. Gathered in the 13th Plenary Assembly of our Bishops Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), we have taken up the AIDS pandemic and its horrible consequences. In doing so we have been very close to you, our dear brothers and sisters who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and also to you who have been moved to join in the fight against the scourge of AIDS.

I. We are in solidarity.
“For just as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12).

This eloquent image expresses well the solidarity that we feel towards all who suffer, but especially towards you our Christian brothers and sisters, who are one single body, with millions who make up the communities of Africa and Madagascar. It is on you that we call to join together in confronting the pandemic whose gravity no one can ignore. May this solidarity be matched by a keen awareness of the seriousness of the threat facing us. Millions of lives have already been lost prematurely, whole families dismembered and untold numbers of children orphaned and/or infected by HIV. And it is they above all who need protection, nurture, housing, education and adult parents.

II. Let’s be true to ourselves.
As heads of our Christian communities, we commit ourselves to making available our Church’s resources be they our educational and healthcare institutions or social services. We will work closely with all funders who are disposed to support and work with Christian and faith-based organisations. We are open to partnerships with them and others who are happy to put their resources to work in the struggle, and do so knowing well that we work according to our Gospel convictions. For “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that issues from the mouth of God” (Mt 4: 4).

The morality we teach in God’s name seeks to respect and affirm human life which gets its value and dignity from the fact that it is the inviolable gift from our Father who creates every human being and calls everyone to the fullness of life. Therefore abstinence and fidelity are not only the best way to avoid becoming infected by HIV or infecting others, but even more are they the best way of ensuring progress towards lifelong happiness and true fulfilment. “Never give in then, brothers and sisters, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain” (1 Cor 15: 58).

III. Let’s change behaviour.
Besides teaching the morality of the Church and sharing her moral convictions with civil society, and besides informing and alerting people to the dangers of HIV-infection, we want to educate appropriately and promote those changes in attitude and behaviour which value abstinence and self-control before marriage and fidelity within marriage. We want to become involved in affective and sexual education for life, to help young people and couples discover the wonder of their sexuality and their reproductive capacities. Out of such wonder and respect flow a responsible sexuality and method of managing fertility in mutual respect between the man and the woman.

This type of education can only be undertaken effectively with the active collaboration of lay men and women who not only speak about principles of morality but also, as youth and as couples, give living testimony that fidelity to these moral principles yields a humanising and fulfilling affective and sexual life. Such education also contributes to promoting healthy and stable families, and these are the best prevention against AIDS. Organizations which specialise in such education for young people and for couples exist throughout Africa and are having a small but gratifying degree of success. We give them the support and encouragement they deserve.

IV. Let’s be responsible.
The solidarity that we spoke of earlier binds us to joint responsibility in tackling the global and complex challenges facing us: interminable and recurrent wars, conflicts and violence in which rape is often used as a weapon, not just psychologically violent but physically destructive through HIV/AIDS!

We have also come to realise that poverty goes hand in hand with HIV and AIDS. It concerns us that our already fragile economies should be further weakened with much of the trained labour force lost to HIV and AIDS. Poverty facilitates the transmission of HIV, makes adequate treatment ...

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