Giving a talk before the kick-off of an international conference in Austria on the AIDS crisis, Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight stressed that Catholics need to underpin their efforts in the global fight against AIDS by reaching out with “compassion, communion and conscience.”
Dr. Knight spoke to participants in a meeting on July 16 regarding HIV in the run-up to the 17th annual International AIDS Conference, which began on July 18 in Vienna.
Speaking to 100 individuals from Catholic organizations from 23 countries, Knight said that the conference would offer opportunities for increasing development and collaboration in the worldwide effort to fight AIDS.
“We need to develop a much better understanding and appreciation of how the circumstances in which people live make them vulnerable to HIV infection, and powerless to prevent it,” she noted.
"Our compassion needs to extend to people who are marginalized by society: to groups such as injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, and prison populations.”
Patrick Nicholson, head of communications for Caritas Internationalis explained to CNA that Knight “is not saying that it is impossible for vulnerable and marginalized people to avoid HIV infection.” Rather, “she is saying that we need to develop a compassionate understanding of their circumstances so that we can find the best way to help them,” Nicholson added.
“She means ‘powerless’ in the sense that people are often unable to see a way out of their predicaments without the compassionate help of another person,” he explained. “Some of these groups, such as sex workers and prison populations, can also be rendered ‘powerless’ by the fact that they are vulnerable to rape.”
Knight continued in her talk to say that this dynamic “presents us with the challenge of coming to terms with the realities of life for people within these groups.”
“We need to be able to feel their suffering too and develop realistic solutions that will be effective in these diverse, difficult and complex contexts.”
The secretary general went on in her address to say that as Catholics, “we have much to share, but we also have an opportunity to listen and to learn. We don’t hold all the answers. We should participate in conferences such as this with open minds and hearts, seeking information to develop new solutions rather than reinforce entrenched ideas.”
“If we are to end the stigma of HIV infection and promote effective prevention strategies, we need to be able to enter into frank and honest dialogue about what are sometimes difficult issues for us to talk about,” she continued.
“HIV/AIDS presents many moral dilemmas. Listening to our conscience is not always easy; it often requires us to confront uncomfortable truths, to challenge our prejudices, to accept criticism, to move out of our comfort zones.”
“The three Cs - compassion, communion, and conscience should underline a Catholic approach that fosters dialogue, cooperation, and an openness on how best to respond to the AIDS pandemic,” Knight underscored.