Jennifer Mills (left, pictured with fellow youth delegate Sara Peters) said at an ecumenical conference preceding the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, “Youth can lead this movement.”
A two-day ecumenical conference in mid-August addressed the moral and spiritual dimension of the worldwide AIDS pandemic, shortly before the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto.
Christian leaders, church representatives, people living with HIV/AIDS, aid organizations and activists challenged people of faith to do more to stop the spread of AIDS, advocate for those who already have the disease and care for them and their children.
“The faith communities should be advocates … but faith communities have the ability to do so much more. They can be the hands, heart and feet of God in this world,” Rev. Johannes Petrus Heath, a South African Anglican priest who is HIV-positive and co-ordinates a network of African religious leaders affected by HIV/AIDS, told the conference’s opening session.
Representatives of the Anglican Church of Canada’s partnerships department, Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and faith, worship and ministry department attended and helped plan the conference.
Canon Linda Nicholls, co-ordinator for dialogue at faith, worship and ministry, led a group of six young people and three theological students from various Anglican churches in Canada. Sara Peters, 19, of Stouffville, Ont., said she became interested in AIDS issues in 2003, when she attended a presentation on the disease’s ravaging effect in Africa and thought “there’s got to be something I can do.” Attending the conference got her thinking about starting an HIV/AIDS awareness group at her university, Wilfrid Laurier, in Waterloo, Ont.
Matthew Cutler, 21, of St. Catharines, Ont., was featured in a short film that was part of a youth presentation at the closing session. “Pearl S. Buck said, ‘the young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.’ We can be the leaders of today,” he said.
Jennifer Mills, 20, of London, Ont., also appeared in the film. She said that she had once thought of church as a small community, but the conference, with its global representation, changed her view. “We have the power to stop AIDS. Youth can lead this movement,” she said.
PWRDF’s public engagement co-ordinator, Beth Baskin, led a workshop where participants discussed advocacy campaigns that concerned AIDS and other social justice issues and shared stories of strategies, successes and failures. Building on several observations from the discussion groups, Ms. Baskin noted that reporting back to constituents in a movement is essential – both successes and failures of a particular action.
Other workshops offered a wide range of topics for churches, from ways to spread accurate information about HIV risks to strategies for holding pharmaceutical companies and other corporations accountable for their roles in the pandemic.