An international interfaith conference on HIV/AIDS has called on religious leaders to use their places of worship, and educational and health facilities to help in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“We acknowledge that we have not done enough in this area, and have at times contributed to their (those living with HIV/AIDS) sense of exclusion and stigmatization,” participants said in a statement at the recent International Interfaith Conference in Colombo.
More than 200 Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim delegates from across Asia attended the conference, whose theme was, “Response of Faith Communities to HIV and AIDS – Have We Kept the Promise?”
The event was jointly organized by the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS, the Christian Conference of Asia, and the Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, which is linked to the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The interfaith gathering declared that the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS, along with HIV/AIDS groups in faith communities, would develop “tools to train the leadership.” The organizers explained this would enable faith organizations to “be effective public voices for raising awareness and reducing the stigma and discrimination so often associated with HIV and AIDS.”
Karuna Roy, who co-ordinates the HIV/AIDS work of the Church of North India, told delegates she has been branded a “shameless woman,” even by some church officials, for speaking about sex in public during her HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. As an example of the sensitivity of the subject, one pastor walked out when Ms. Roy began speaking about sexual behaviour during her HIV lecture at the Colombo conference.
Ms. Roy pointed out, however, that, “Where there is strong pastoral leadership and congregational support, our programs have been successful.”
When Roman Catholic nun Mary Magdalene Francis from the Church of the Good Shepherd in Colombo informed her parish priest that she was going to attend the AIDS conference, the priest asked her ‘Why should you go for this conference? What have you got to do with this conference?'”
Buddhist monk Phramaha Boonchuay Doojai, chairperson of the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS, based at Chiang Mai in Thailand, said. “There are still many [religious] leaders with the attitude that AIDS is not a problem that concerns them.”