In light of World AIDS Day, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) released a statement in which the bishops noted the struggles Africa faces while highlighting the work the Church is doing “facing HIV in Africa and caring for people infected and affected.”
World AIDS Day is celebrated each year on December 1. This year's theme, "Universal Access and Human Rights,” seeks to challenge discriminatory laws, practices and policies that stand between people with HIV/AIDS and prevention, treatment, care, and support.
The letter, signed by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on behalf of SECAM began by stating that the “Church is second to none in facing HIV in Africa and caring for people infected and affected. Earlier this year, responding to a journalist en route to the continent, Pope Benedict XVI said: 'The most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against AIDS is the Catholic Church herself.' And we African Bishops know he is right.”
The statement then noted that the bishops are “constantly present among millions of Africans who are badly affected by the pandemic.” Because of this, they “see how AIDS continues to ravage our populations, even if it is slipping down the agenda of governments, civil society and international organizations.”
“The global recession and economic downturn have a detrimental impact on our brothers and sisters infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Climbing prices of food and other basic necessities are hampering progress of treatment, because people cannot afford the food essential to support their medication.”
“At a time when official concerns about the pandemic are receding, we re-affirm theologically that the Body of Christ has AIDS, and express our pastoral determination as Family of God to provide fitting responses. For our continent is still the worst afflicted,” the statement continued.
In looking for a solution, the bishops called for a comprehensive approach. “For the tide to turn, the impact of all contributing factors must be recognize and tackled holistically: wars; fragile or failing states; inequality between men and women; the ravages of climate change and many more. All these make the poor even poorer, more dispossessed, more vulnerable to HIV and, if infected, more likely to develop AIDS,” they added.
“HIV/AIDS is not just a medical problem and investing in pharmaceutics alone will not work.” They noted that AIDS cannot be overcome “by relying exclusively or primarily on the distribution of prophylactics. Only a strategy based on education to individual responsibility in the framework of a moral view of human sexuality, especially through conjugal fidelity, can have a real impact on the prevention of this disease.”
“The Church's understanding of marriage as the total, reciprocal and exclusive communion of love between a man and a woman prompts the most effective behaviors for preventing the sexual transmission of disease: namely, abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage.”
The bishops also expressed great confidence in the youth of their continent, exhorting them, “ Let no one deceive you into thinking that you cannot control yourself… Formation of the human person is the true recipe, the key to it all, and we are intent on preparing you to be tomorrow's salt of the earth and light of the world, active, generous and responsible members of society and Church.”
The statement concluded by expressing the hope that Catholics around the world would “continue supporting the long-term commitment of the Church in Africa to raise awareness, to accompany the infected and the affected, to form the youth, and to face this great challenge - along with many others - in a spirit of inclusivity, reconciliation, and greater harmony in families, communities, parishes and all dimensions of Church life.”