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Asia Journalist Association | ajanews.asiaBlessed Anuarite Nengapeta is a young Sister of the Holy Family d’Isiro-Wamba
and a midwife who was murdered resisting the sexual demands of a rebel leader in
the Congo in 1964. St Aloysius Gonzaga is a young Jesuit who selflessly gave his
life caring for victims of the deadly plague in Rome in 1591. We entrust the
African Jesuit AIDS Network to their prayer and protection.


TO ERADICATE STIGMA

“Stigma challenges the Church in Africa today,” declared the Coordinator of
the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN), Father Michael Czerny SJ, to the
Catholic agency DIA (African Documentation and Information) during his visit of
20-27 October 2004 to Kinshasa, Kimwenza and Kisantu in the D.R. Congo.

The Canadian Jesuit defines stigma in these terms: “Jesus teaches us that each
man, each woman is my neighbour. Stigma is any way of excluding the other from
the family, from the community and the parish, from society because of HIV
infection.” Father Czerny recalls one of his visits to a support group. A young
woman who was infected with AIDS told him, “As soon as I told my father the
news, I was thrown out.” Fr. Michael gave the example of a husband who locked
his wife who had AIDS in the garage for fear that it might be discovered that
she was infected. “He forbade other family members to visit her. He was afraid
that it would be discovered that he too was sick. Fear, social shame are at the
root of this inhuman behaviour. The lack of hope is also one of the causes.”

On 1 December 2003, the Bishops of Africa published their message entitled “The
Church in Africa in Face of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic
”. They committed themselves “to work tirelessly to eradicate stigma and
discrimination and to challenge any social, religious, cultural and political
norms and practices which perpetuate such stigma and discrimination.”

For Fr Michael, the role of the Church must not be limited to talking about
AIDS. In order to fight stigma, she is called forth to accompany and to care for
those who are ill. Assuming responsibility for the sick also consists in
allowing people who carry the virus to find their place anew at the table of the
Lord and their role in the ministry of the Church. “During celebrations or
meetings, the priest should make a point of having them speak so that they may
tell others about their illness.”

Last year, the Bishops also committed to “playing a major role in eradicating
the damaging myths of stigma and discrimination by facilitating Voluntary
Counselling and Testing (VCT) so that those who are infected might benefit from
the care and support they need.”

On the very important theme of authentic sexuality in Africa, “the Church wants
to teach it, but it has trouble making this an active reality. It isn’t easy.
True discourse on sexuality must take the local culture into account. Many
expressions concerning sexuality are terms that have been imported from Western
culture. The Church is called to develop another discourse on integral sexuality
that is suitable for the local culture.”

The Catholic agency DOCUMENTATION ET INFORMATIONS AFRICAINES (DIA), Kinshasa, 27
October 2004. Gustave Lobunda SJ
docdia@ic.cd


ENSURING VICTORY BY AIMING AT THE ROOTS

In response to the Message from SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of
Africa and Madagascar) on World AIDS Day, 1 December 2003, the Jesuits of
Madagascar have intensified their struggle against HIV and AIDS through the new
Arrupe Social Centre in Antananarivo. Jean-Simon Ratsimbazafy SJ, who is
interested in medical ethics, interned at the Centre from April to June 2004,
conducting research into the reasons why AIDS is increasing in certain areas of
the country.

Jean-Simon noted that in Benenitra, Belamoty and Bezaha, recent statistics
(2004) show local prevalence rates of about 5% while the national rate is about
1.7%. Poverty and degenerating morals in these places promote prostitution and
the sex trade. Youth who lack work and educational and leisure activities, take
to “gilomidro” (traditional alcohol) and to commando, martial arts and
pornographic videos.

Tradition reinforces the gravity of the situation by perpetuating certain
taboos. When they reach puberty, girls become responsible for meeting their own
different needs. This leads to more teenage mothers, especially in areas with
major roads. Each home has an average of eight children of different fathers.
The term “bananay” (our father) is being replaced by “babako” (my father), as
almost each one has his or her own father. Sanitary infrastructure is sorely
lacking: a syringe is sometimes used by twenty people per day. The overzealous
promotion of condom usage makes the situation disastrous.

Awareness-raising and information are the top priorities in this situation.
Various authorities (moral and civil) as well as those responsible for
education, parents and teachers, must become involved, in cities as in villages.
We must add the letters D and E to the familiar expression ‘ABC.’ Let “A” stand
for Abstinence, “B” Be faithful, “C” Condom, D “Detection” and “E” Education.
The polemics surrounding the condom is the tree that hides the forest. We must
move from the phenomenology of evil to fighting the roots of evil. The root
cause is none other than the profound poverty that affects most Malagasy.

Faithful to our values, we affirm that in Christian ethics, the end does not
justify the means. Only a radical change in sexual behaviour will bring about
real protection against HIV/AIDS.

Contact: Jean-Simon Ratsimbazafy SJ
jean-simon.ratsimba@jesuites.com


A PROVINCE GATHERS AROUND AIDS

The Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Jesuit Province held an Assembly on 2 January 2004
at the University of Zambia Christian Centre in Lusaka. Attended by some 75
members, the Assembly served as a day to gather, take stock, reflect upon and
plan for the Province’s mission as responding to HIV and AIDS.

Fr. Provincial Colm Brophy began with a State of the Province address, followed
by a presentation by Michael J Kelly SJ on the challenges which HIV/AIDS
presents to our faith. The Assembly then became acquainted with AIDS-related
apostolates such as the Anti-AIDS Club at Canisuis High School in Chikuni, the
Novices working with the Missionaries of Charity at a hospice for the dying,
Matero Parish and the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Lusaka, and
activities at Lilongwe in Malawi.

Small groups then worked on questions arising from the SECAM Message “The Church
in Africa in the Face of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic” and from the Recommendations of
the AJAN Assembly held in Nairobi , both
published in late 2003. These discussions expressed the Province’s urge to
understand better its role and mission in the broad field of AIDS.

The afternoon was dedicated to reflections by Fr Dr Ken Johnson on “Structural
Aspects of Healthcare” and by Fr Michael Kelly on “HIV/AIDS from International
Experience.” A general discussion exchanged thoughts, inspirations and
convictions and pulled together the points raised during the day. Some key
themes that emerged were the importance of keeping in touch with the realities,
the need to partner with existing organisations so as not to duplicate efforts,
and the importance of prayerful and theological reflection: to be contemplative
in action, in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The members called for a concerted Provincial response rather than the hitherto
piecemeal or individual efforts. Moreover, the Assembly appreciated such
Province strengths as education, training, publication, that could enhance its
AIDS-related initiatives in cooperation with other organisations, while
acknowledging shortcomings in attitude, policy and practice that need to be
addressed. In all, the Assembly was a grace-filled opportunity for the ZAM
Province to reflect on HIV/AIDS as a challenge to our faith, to our apostolic
mission, and to our understanding.

Contact the HIV/AIDS coordinator: Michael J Kelly SJ
mjkelly@zamnet.zm


APPROACHING AIDS IN THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL

“AIDS is not a punishment, even less is it God’s vengeance. Suffering is not
the fruit of some capricious and sadistic pleasure on God’s part, since He
himself truly had to suffer in his life among us.” In terms such as these,
Didier De Failly SJ, university chaplain at Bukavu in the eastern D.R. Congo,
clarified the understanding of HIV/AIDS and the suffering that comes with it in
human life. Didier had been invited by the Association SOS-SIDA for a day of
information and exchange about AIDS on 18 July 2004. The day brought together
forty animators under the theme: “Approaching the problem of HIV/AIDS in the
light of the Gospel.”

Fr. Didier introduced the animators to a more open and positive approach to
sexuality within the parent-child relationship: “The extreme reserve — the
taboo — that adults adopt in front of their children regarding their own
mutually loving relationship, gives those children the idea that the only sexual
relationship between their parents is purely genital in nature. This exacerbates
the new and still uncontrolled genital urges of the young. With simple, discreet
gestures and tender words toward each other in front of their children, and
without a need for long speeches, the children might perceive that what is
primary is not strictly genital sex with its drives, its libido, but the meeting
of two people of different sexes who give themselves to each other, who need
each other, who support each other. It is quite distressing that a part of life
that God perfected for the happiness of humans is too often experienced as
something embarrassing, almost shameful, and at best as a small pleasure seized
on the sly.”

The community animators must confront the guilt complex that takes hold of
persons affected by HIV/AIDS. Their task is to act like the Good Samaritan. They
must overcome their own fear and prejudices. The participants were invited to
take the AIDS test. With regard to this issue, three groups can be
distinguished: HIV-positive, HIV-negative and… “HIV- ignorant”! For many, the
exchanges were stimulating, and it was the first time that they heard a priest
speaking openly about this sensitive subject. Fr Didier is currently considering
a project, centred more on students, with the global objective of putting
mechanisms into place that will be able to prevent the spread of HIV and other
STDs, and organizing the care of persons living with HIV/AIDS without neglecting
those who are affected by it.

Jesuit Social Apostolate in Africa and Madagascar
Kinshasa Artists Mobilize Against AIDS

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