Saturday, December 1, 2012


Are HIV and AIDS God’s punishment?

HIV/AIDS must never be considered as a punishment from God. He wants us to be healthy and not to die from AIDS. It is for us a sign of the times challenging all people to inner transformation and to the following of Christ in his ministry of healing, mercy and love. ( A message of Hope to the people of God from Catholic bishops of South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland, July 30, 2001.
Around 1.7 million people have died of AIDS at the of 2011. In total 2.5 million people newly infected with HIV in 2011. From these figures, 2.2 million are adults and 330.000 million are children. People in every region and every country are affected. Dozens of countries are already in grip of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Many more are on the brink. 

By June 2012, furthermore, the cumulative number of people in Timor Leste who have been infected since the first reported case (in 2003) is 294, among whom were 131 females aged 15 and older, 135 males aged 15 and older, and 28 children aged 0-14. Out of the total number of HIV infected people, 73 have been receiving ARV (antiretroviral) treatment, while the total number of deaths has increased by 11 to 31 people since the end of 2009. By June 2012, the accumulative number of PLHIV in East Timor has increased by 143 people since the end of 2009, with 3 deaths in 2010, 4 deaths in 2011, and 4 deaths in first six months of 2012. (Data released by CRS Dili, in June 2012)
Although HIV prevalence in Timor-Leste is very low, estimated to be less than 0.1% among adults aged 15-49 in 2008, inadequate testing and insufficient research would likely mean that more people are infected than what is indicated in the current epidemiological data.  
   In most people’s minds, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) are tied to behaviour that is religiously condemned.  HIV has been equated with "a curse," and those who live with it have been viewed as "sinners.”  Churches tend to point a finger at people living with HIV, instead of adopting a caring and compassionate response. The truth is that everyone is vulnerable to HIV irrespective of our standing with God.
 We should raise our voices to call for an end to silence about this disease – the silence of stigma, the silence of denial, the silence of fear. We confess that the Church herself, in other part of the world, has been complicit in this silence. When we have raised our voices in the past, it has been too often a voice of condemnation. We now wish to make it clear that HIV and AIDS is not a punishment from God. Our Christian faith compels us to accept that all persons, marginalised, including those who are living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV), are made in the image of God and are children of God

The Reason for Care and Support

As faithful Christians, the question likes ‘why do we care and support for PLHIV is fundamental and significant question to be asked as foundation of our care and support for PLHIV. The following points are the reasons why we, as Christians and religious leaders, care and support for PLHIV.

Human dignity
John Paul II, in addressing the AIDS conference in 1989 said: "The necessary prevention against the AIDS threat is not to be found in fear, but rather in the conscious choice of a healthy, free and responsible lifestyle.” This message seems to emphasise that ‘every human being is created in God's image, redeemed by Jesus, and called to everlasting life.
Every human life is sacred and precious. In the context of the AIDS epidemic, we all need to affirm healthy relationships rooted in trust, honesty, and respect. HIV/AIDS touches upon the issues of sexuality and sexual orientation, substance abuse and addictions, often in a context of poverty, racism, and sexism. The Church's statements remind HIV-infected persons of their grave moral responsibility not to expose others to the virus. All people are encouraged to respect the dignity of others, both in their personal feelings and interactions and in the structures of society.

Pope John Paul II, once again in addressing the Vatican AIDS conference audiences said, "As far as HIV is concerned  : "AIDS has by far many more profound repercussions of a moral,  social, economic, juridical and structural nature, not only on individual families and in neighbourhood communities, but also on nations and on the entire community of peoples"
Our Solidarity should lead us into an immediate care, education, and changing social structures. Following the example of Jesus, the Church has long cared for the sick. The global
spread and the increasing number of HIV/AIDS in Timor Leste and the serious suffering that marks this disease challenged and renewed this ministry, especially in our country Timor Leste, where health care resources are so severely limited.  All of us can contribute with some form of direct care through parishes or local HIV/AIDS agencies: support groups, transportation, child care, pastoral visit, meal programs-or at least we can support those who can do this. Since prevention is still imperative, education must play a pivotal role in responding to HIV/AIDS. Solidarity signifies our connection with our sisters and brothers, the people who are living with HIV/AIDS

Pope John II in “Compassion and Responsibility” emphasises that "The love of God is so great that it goes beyond the limits of human language, beyond the grasp of artistic expression, beyond human understanding . . . . [God] loves us all with unconditional and everlasting love". Furthermore the same pope addressing the people at St. Francis Hospital in Uganda, in 1993, says: "The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ shed light on the true meaning and value of human suffering. The Lord invites everyone to join him on the road to Calvary and to share in the joy of Easter. These statements always affirm the love and compassion of God. Jesus has revealed a God who loves each of us unconditionally, a God who forgives our sinful actions. God is not vengeful. God respects human freedom, calling us to love and responsibility, but not interfering even with destructive choices.
HIV/AIDS is a human illness not a punishment from God. HIV/AIDS causes great suffering and death. And so our call is to help people to stand before the mystery of suffering and to realize that even here God's tender mercies can be experienced. The teachings urge all Christians to model their lives after Jesus, trusting in God, bringing comfort to those in need, and confronting oppressive structures and situations.

Compassion and Responsibilities
Compassion is much more than sympathy. It involves an experience of intimacy by which one participates in another's life. The Latin word misericordia expresses the basic idea: The compassionate person has a heart for those in misery. This is not simply the desire to be kind. The truly compassionate individual works at his or her own cost for the others' real good, helping to rescue them from danger as well as alleviate their suffering.
The Church holds that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created in God's image and possess a human dignity which must be respected and protected. Thus we affirmed in To Live in Christ Jesus "The Christian community should provide HIV affected with a special degree of pastoral understanding and care"

Eradicate the Stigma and Discrimination against PLHIV
Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew says: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

The facts shows clearly that people Living with HIV (PLHIV) are experiencing stigma and discrimination by the rest of the family or the community, as the public society often associate PLHIV with immoral behavioural patterns, social status, or even with divine punishment. Often, they are almost automatically condemned and excommunicated by the community, which is against their human dignity and human rights. ( From the interview with PLHIV which was done by Caritas Diocese Dili Timor Leste, Church Mobilization to fight against HIV/AIDS)
The social prejudices around PLHIV are based on the presumptions that HIV is transmitted only via sexual activities and drug injections which are unaccepted by the norms of the society. These are not true, as HIV can be transmitted via other means, such as blood transmission, or syringes and surgical tools in poor medical operations. The resulting consequence of these prejudices is that people who are infected would isolate themselves out of fear and would avoid testing their HIV status, which in turn, increase the risks of infecting others.
What is our Christian response to this scenario? Christians are called to break this silence by acknowledging suffering and reaching out with compassion to the excluded and rejected. We should continue to include them in community, openness in family, in the parish, based on love and God’s mercy.
HIV and AIDS cannot be cured, but people with HIV can live longer by living positively in the light of both of their physical and emotional well-being. People with HIV and AIDS can also receive spiritual health from the Divine strength; seek pastoral counselling, as well as share feelings with their families and loved ones. It is important to encourage each member of the community to stop judging and to love them. (Kasmir Nema, svd)

[1] A temporary consultant of HIV/AIDS at CRS Dili, lives in Culuhun.

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