As a way to choose life it seems that we as Catholic Christians must be in the forefront of concern for people with HIV and AIDS. It has been a long time since the mysterious illness in the early 1980s first began wreaking havoc among young men who were mostly homosexually-oriented and active.
First dismissed as a "gay man's disease", people in leadership, both elected and religious leaders alike were outspoken in their criticism of homosexual men and some publicly stated that they deserved this disease, that this was their punishment from on high!
St. Francis 'Neath the Bitter Tree by Fr. William McNichols, SJ, depicting St. Francis of Assisi embracing Christ crucified as One suffering with AIDS and rejected by society.
People with AIDS and who are HIV+ continue to often live "outside the pale" of regular human society. The Catholic Church, both in Rome and in numerous dioceses around the world, has consistently advocated for justice and care for people suffering with this dreaded disease.
As this image depicts, "The Body of Christ has AIDS". And it is proper and right to outreach in the name of the Lord Jesus to anyone who is afflicted and rejected, for in doing so we outreach to the Lord himself.
Thanks to the research of Bro. Pio Jackson, OFM, chair of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office (JPIC) of the Sacred Heart Province (USA), here are some interesting, and perhaps disturbing, data from UNAIDS as of July 2008:
"Approximately 33,000,000 around the world are living with AIDS. The numbers of people on AIDS medication jumped by ten times in the last six years going from 300,000 to 3,000,000 worldwide. Millions of others are poor and cannot afford or gain access to critical drugs.
In the US alone, 1,500,000 Americans have been infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic and more than 524,000 have died of AIDS. At least 40,0000 are infected in America with 48% of the cases being African-American. The number of women living with HIV has tripled in the last two decades."
Get involved; learn more; advocate -- all in the name of the Lord Jesus. The struggle for care for people with HIV/AIDS is far from over.
A sad fact that seems to correlate with the aforementioned data -- more people die in one year from malaria in the Third World than from other diseases. And many of these are people with HIV/AIDS because of their poverty, lack of sanitary conditions and access to adequate medical care.
Franciscan men and women have been in the forefront of care for people with AIDS and who are HIV+, often through medical outreach and welcome to the outcast. The folks are certainly not asking to be pitied! The embrace pictured above is not about pity, really. It is about love.
What's happening in your area this Monday, 1 December 2008, World AIDS Day? What can you do to help? Perhaps, begin with prayer . . . and see where that leads you!