Churches mark AIDS day

Published January 1, 2004

Becky Nganja, 24, takes a break beside an AIDS poster at the All-Africa Conference of Churches ecumenical service marking World AIDS Day.

Anglicans joined people around the world in commemorating World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, an event marked by activities ranging from candlelight vigils to the display of gigantic red ribbons, a music summit on AIDS and prayers calling for an end to the discrimination faced by people living with HIV/AIDS.

In South Africa, where much of the AIDS pandemic is concentrated, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane called on the church to “stand firm and say AIDS is not a death sentence but a life sentence, and help people to live positively and spiritually.” More than 40 million people around the world are infected with HIV, 27 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Three million people died last year as a result of AIDS.

Archbishop Ndungane, who is primate (senior bishop) of the Anglican province of Southern Africa, drew attention to the stigma faced by HIV-positive victims during a sermon. The archbishop said HIV/AIDS should be turned into a voting issue ahead of the country’s general election, the be held later this year.

Speaking at a Cape Town interfaith service in St George’s Cathedral, Archbishop Ndungane said that unless a political party produced a clear commitment to fighting the disease and extending the lives of those who lived with it, it was not deserving of votes.

“They must put forward a clear policy plan with a clear timeline on how to deal with these forsaken children,” he said.

Also in South Africa, former South African president Nelson Mandela joined a crowd of thousands at a mammoth “46664” AIDS charity concert in Cape Town. Mr. Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years at Robben Island during South Africa ‘s apartheid era, lent his prison number 46664 to the event to dramatize that HIV-positive people were, as he had been, “serving a prison sentence of life.”

In Kenya, 29 Anglican dioceses held a national week of prayers for people living with AIDS. Anglican Church of Kenya Provincial Secretary Bishop William Waqo said that in the past, the church had “joined the bandwagon of condemning people infected by AIDS,” but now there is growing awareness of the need to preach hope amidst the pain and despair of the disease.

In New York, Anglican Observer at the United Nations Archdeacon Taimalelagi Faga-malama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea met with UN Secretary Kofi Annan to discuss the work that she does on behalf of the 75-million member Anglican Communion and to reiterate the communion’s commitment to help combat HIV/AIDS.

Archdeacon Matalavea presented Mr. Annan with a letter from Canon John Peterson, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office, in which he stated that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the top priorities for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

“The primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in Brazil in May 2003, made the stark admission that the ‘Body of Christ has AIDS,'” said Canon Peterson. “The primates determined to engage more deeply in combating HIV/AIDS, and particularly in challenging cultures and traditions which stifle the humanity of women and deprive them of equal rights.” The primates also agreed “the greatest challenge was to nurture and equip our children to protect themselves from HIV, so that we can fulfill the vision of building a ‘generation without AIDS,'” he added.

Later in the day Archdeacon Matalavea joined the New York community in commemoration services entitled “Live and Let Live,” at the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The services were sponsored by the Church World Service, the African Services Committee, the UN, UNAIDS, and Artists Against AIDS Worldwide. A highlight of the service was the foot-stomping premiere U.S. concert by South Africa ‘s 21-member Sinikithemba HIV+ Choir, whose Zulu and Christian members are living with HIV.

Sikinikthemba choirmaster Phumelani introduced each song and dance the group performed by saying, “There is no other way. We are giving our trust in God,” “God is still here,” and “Yes, Lord, from the bottom of our hearts.”

Other performers included musician Lila Downs who flew in from Mexico, British-born lyric dramatic soprano Almond, who flew in from Durban, South Africa, Timothy Shew, who appeared on Broadway as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and the cast of the Broadway hit musical Rent. Ed Shaw, a person living with HIV/AIDS spoke during the event, along with Mary Robinson, executive director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, who is also the former president of Ireland, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Canada remembered the day in various events such as “Keys of Hope,” an exhibit of arts, stories and photographs sponsored by World Vision, an AIDS walk past 7,000 crosses erected in Peace Park on Salt Spring Island, B.C., to remember the 7,000 people who die each day of HIV/AIDS.

With files from ENI, Church World Service


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