On World AIDS Day, Don’t Forget

December 1, 2008, 9:44 am | Posted by

Every December 1st, World AIDS Day brings a chance to remember those who have fallen to the disease and those who are currently fighting for their lives. This year, however, it seems that World AIDS Day is not as much about remembering as it’s about not forgetting.

With a chaotic world economy, it might be easy to overlook AIDS in favor of more “pressing” matters. Catholic Relief Services’ Ken Hackett says this would be a mistake for three reasons: 1. “If the current structure built to fight HIV and AIDS is not strengthened and extended but instead allowed to crumble, rebuilding it will cost much more.” 2. Engaging AIDS “makes good foreign-policy sense,” giving the U.S. a positive presence in unstable regions. Finally:

This horrible pandemic is affecting the poorest people in the world, those least able to address the ravaging effects of this disease. If we do not help them, we will cede the moral authority that the United States needs to lead the world in the 21st century.

Fuel for forgetting also comes from health experts who claim we’re in a “post-AIDS era.” These thoughts, though, ignore the unsteady nature of any progress made in the fight against AIDS.

Ultimately, to forget the world AIDS crisis would be to ignore the tremendous amount of goodwill and want-to that people of faith have built. Many young evangelicals, including myself, were introduced to social justice through the AIDS pandemic. We saw the horrors of Darfur because our eyes were already trained on Africa; we first engaged poverty because we saw it as the root cause to the global spread of AIDS.

To forget about AIDS now would be to turn our backs on the cause that opened a broader agenda that is changing the face of faith in the public square. We must send the message that we are mobilized and motivated; we can’t let the world forget.

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Another thought on World AIDS Day

December 1, 2008, 9:13 am | Posted by

In high school I participated in a program that trained students in counseling and paired them with elementary school kids in need of support. One year my mentee was a 5th grader who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion as a baby. His deceased older brother was infected in the same manner.

We didn’t sit around and talk about what it felt like to have AIDS, to stare death in the face, to deal with the grueling side effects of countless medications. We talked about his weary mom, his lost brother, his favorite hospitals, his distant schoolmates. We played Connect Four and took walks and practiced multiplication. He didn’t complain much about his suffering, but he clearly knew he was going to stay sick. (This was before antiretroviral treatment was widely available.) In such circumstances, courage is a matter of simple necessity.

He was just one of the diverse faces of HIV/AIDS. Just like Ryan White. Just like Magic Johnson. Just like every one of the silent thousands who die every day.

The people who make AIDS their life’s work have a fortitude I can’t fathom — I can’t even bring myself to confirm whether my little buddy died after we lost touch. But I can offer a prayer for the victims and the mourners, as well as the caregivers, activists and researchers who seek to relieve, prevent and cure HIV. I hope you’ll join me.

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Compassion Forum Focus: Global HIV/AIDS

April 11, 2008, 6:50 pm | Posted by

As people of faith realize that their spiritual connection transcends ideology and geography, interesting combinations of voices have emerged. For example, megachurch pastor Rick Warren hosting Sen. Hillary Clinton for an HIV/AIDS conference with his Orange County congregation.

It’s not sure politicians and pastors who are realigning their priorities, rock stars are doing this as well.

It can be easy to dismiss the rhetoric of these folks, especially in the faith community, a significant number of whom stood silent during the height of the American epidemic during the 80s and 90s. But here is evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s website outlaying a “purpose driven” approach to caring for HIV/AIDS patients.

AIDS/HIV hits minority communities especially hard, all around the world. Because of the geographical and minority barriers, the issue often receives little Congressional attention. The Balm In Gilead operates the nation’s only HIV/AIDS technical assistance center designed specifically to serve churches as well as public agencies and community-based organizations that wish to work with Black churches on AIDS issues.

Question: Is health care a human right? If so, does the U.S. have a moral obligation to address the AIDS pandemic around the world? What about other diseases? Do you think the focus on HIV/AIDS distracts from other world health concerns?

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Compassion Forum Focus: Darfur

April 10, 2008, 1:36 pm | Posted by

I was down at the San Francisco Olympic protests yesterday, and while Tibet was the biggest draw, the green-shirted Save Darfur folks were a strong presence. Mix in Burma, the Vietnamese fishermen and it’s pretty clear that the next U.S. president will have to take some serious leadership in addressing the human rights abuses fueled by run-away Chinese capitalism.

Here actor/activist Don Cheadle discusses the deteriorating situation in the Darfur region of Sudan at the launch event for the ENOUGH! Project in Washington DC with John Prendergast

The Save Darfur coalition has produced a 20 min. video: A Call to Action. The film provides background on the genocide in Darfur and explores what the major religions tell us about our responsibility to our brothers and sisters there.

It features interviews with Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, President Elect of the National Council of Churches USA; Bishop John Ricard, chairman of the ad-hoc committee for the Church of Africa of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America; Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, M.D., Co-Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Boston and founder of a humanitarian women’s group in Sudan, and Darfuri survivors of the genocide, the film implores viewers to take action and join the Save Darfur community.

On Monday, Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke as part of the Dream for Darfur: A Two-Day Academic Symposium on the World’s Darkest Olympics, an event sponsored by Ithaca College.

The Ithacan reports:

The event emphasized the role that China, Sudan’s chief diplomatic sponsor and major weapon’s provider, could play in the ending of the genocide. The speakers told of international pressure on China and the possibility of boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympics in China.

Kristof said though China would feel pressure if many nations boycott the opening and closing ceremonies, it may also lead to more problems. Kristof said his suggestion is to wait until closer to the start of the games to make a decision about boycotting.

“People … not going to the opening and closing ceremonies would be a huge embarrassment to China,” Kristof said. “My fear will be that a boycott of the opening and closing ceremonies will tend to boost Chinese nationalism, push China into a corner and create less cooperation.”

A question for the presidential candidates is: If diplomatic pressure on Sudan and China does not succeed in ending the genocide, do you think the US military has a role to play in stopping it? If so, what role, and what criteria would have to be met before you would seek to deploy US forces in response?

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Give Up War for Lent

February 6, 2008, 1:40 pm | Posted by

Unlike giving up chocolate or coffee, this Lenten observance won’t complicate your Valentine’s Day or make you cranky in the morning. By creating a Lenten online pledge to work and pray for an end to the War in Iraq, our friends at Catholics United have given Catholics the opportunity to deepen their spiritual practice and build the movement for peace at the same time. And unlike chocolate and coffee, war is not something you’re likely to crave again once Easter rolls around.

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