Apr 21, 2009
The world has been living with the AIDS epidemic for more than 25 years and it has caused untold suffering. The scope of the AIDS epidemic is greater than the bubonic plague. Its destructive impact is particularly painful on families. In Africa it is known as "the grandmother’s disease," because it kills mothers and fathers in the prime of their life when they are at the center of providing care for their family both in terms of financial productivity and tender loving care. The burden of taking care of children then falls on the grandmothers. Although extraordinary progress has been made in the treatment of HIV the progress in prevention has been much slower.
In activist AIDS circles, the Catholic Church has been blamed for not responding to the AIDS crisis or even abetting the spread of AIDS due to its principled stand against wide scale condom distribution and the "condom solution." Is this charge true? Where does the Catholic Church stand with regards to HIV and AIDS and has it "put its money where its mouth is?" In countries where the AIDS epidemic has slowed is it due primarily to the efficacy of the "condom solution?"
First off, the charge that the Catholic Church has not responded to the AIDS crisis is not true. Institutions that are directly affiliated with the Catholic Church and supported by the Catholic Church are the largest care providers of HIV and AIDS in the world. The burden of AIDS has fallen most unfairly upon sub-Saharan Africa which is the poorest continent in the world. Throughout Africa there is a network of mission hospitals that is staffed by catholic nuns as care providers and supported by the Catholic Church. These mission hospitals are extraordinary and really exemplify faith in action. There institutions have stepped forward in a heroic fashion to respond to the AIDS crisis. Catholic Relief Services, which is based in the United States, has been an extraordinary conduit of direct HIV and AIDS support through the provision of medications that has been funded through the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This is no surprise because Catholic Relief Services is linked closely to many of these mission hospitals.
In addition to the direct care and support provided by hospitals, there is extraordinary work that is done to provide home support for people living with HIV and AIDS. In South Africa it is very common to see a nun visiting a village by bicycle or a dilapidated jalopy to walk into a small hut and provide food or tender loving care to a young woman or man dying with HIV and AIDS. The care is often in the form of a few encouraging words, holding a hand, giving a bath, providing clean clothes, or dropping off a food basket. Although this care is not "high tech" it is heroic. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have exemplified this tender loving care. Throughout the world they have provided homes for the care of persons with HIV and AIDS which stretch from Washington, DC to Bombay, India to Durban, South Africa to Central and Latin America. In the face of every individual suffering the ravages of AIDS, they see the face of their brother or their sister who is Christ suffering. Their goal is to provide care and love to that person who is their Savior and Lord in the guise of a suffering person.