Interfaith Service Serves as Unofficial Start to 2012 Intl. AIDS Conference

(Photo Credit: Washington National Cathedral/Ed Graham)People gather at an interfaith service entitled "From Darkness to Light" in the Washington National Cathedral in Washington on July 21, 2012.

A 90-minute interfaith service at the Washington National Cathedral over the weekend marked the unofficial start of the 2012 International AIDS Conference, which included Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim calls to prayer and a featured speaker who led the U.S. government's efforts to combat the disease early in its spread, a joint affirmations to battle the disease and celebratory hymns.

The Saturday service came a day ahead of the conference lasts from July 22-27. The service was a memorial to people who have died of AIDS and also for those who continue to live with HIV/AIDS. The service is also part of a series marking the 25 anniversary of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Part of the quilt was on display during the service.

The Christian Call to Prayer was a reading from Romans 8:22-24 read by the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha of the Church of Uganda, part of the Anglican Communion. Rev. Byamugisha openly declared his HIV-positive status in 1992, an action believed to make him the first African religious leader to do so. He founded the a support network called the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Personally Affected HIV/Aids (ANERELA )

He read, from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."

The Jewish Call to Prayer was read by Rabbi Bruce Lustig, the senior Rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a 3,000 member Reform Judaism congregation in the capital, who has previously helped organize interfaith gatherings. His reading came from the "Mi Sheberakh" a traditional Jewish prayer for those who are ill or recovering from illness or accidents.

May the One who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
 And our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel,
 bless and heal these ones who are injured, ill, or sick at heart.
 May the Holy One of blessing be filled with compassion for them.
 To restore and heal, strengthen, and enliven,
 and quickly send them a complete healing,
 A healing of soul and a healing of body, among all others who are stricken,
 Speedily, soon, and without delay. And to say:

The Hindu Call to Prayer was read by Abhay Das, Community Secretary of ISKCON of DC, the Washington D.C.-based part of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

O Almighty Lord, I am Your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into this ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet.

The Muslim Call to Prayer was read by Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, Director of Outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center of Fall Church, Virginia.

The Prophet used to treat some of his wives by passing his right hand over
 the place of ailment and used to say "O Allah, the Lord of the people! Remove
 the trouble and heal the patient, for You are the healer. No healing is of any avail
 but Yours, healing that will leave behind no ailment."

The featured speaker during the service was James W. Curran who led the HIV/AIDS division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and is the current dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory.

"The conference is back to remind us of what has been accomplished and how far we have to go yet in the fight against AIDS," he said.

In his talk, Curran called for a moment of silence to remember people lost to the disease.

"It is essential that, throughout the world, the communities of diverse faiths unite in their charitable endeavors to provide hope for the hundreds of millions with HIV or at great risk," he said.

The speaker was an arrangement of "Eternal Light,"  by 20th century composer and church musician Leo Sowerby. The Lyrics were a modified version of a prayer written by Alcuin of York, an 8th century cleric. It was presented by the Cathedral Singers.

Eternal Light, shine into our hearts. Eternal Goodness, deliver us from evil. Eternal Power, be our support. Eternal Wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance. Eternal Pity, have mercy upon us, through God on high. Amen.

The Christian prayer originally includes " … have mercy upon us; that with all our heart and mind and soul and strength we may seek your face and be brought by your infinite mercy to your holy presence, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

One portion of the service included a message of "Affirmation and Commitment" which was led by Ms. Pernessa Seele, the CEO and founder of Balm in Gilead, a non-profit group whose mission is to help the "African Diaspora" by helping faith institutions help prevent diseases and improve health.

Under a "Theology" subcategory on its website, the organization includes an "Open Letter to MLK Jr. in which various academics and clergy "vow to accept and to honor all regardless of their gender, class, age, or sexuality for we all are the children of God."

She led the reading

We stand tonight as people of faith and as peoples of the world. We need this struggle to be over.

We commit to turn away from despair, weakness, and frustration; to guard our inclinations toward apathy; to take up the mantle of faithfulness for the long haul.

Acknowledging that hope is unevenly shared, we will continue to stand with the sick, the voiceless, the disenfranchised, the orphaned, the abused, and the neglected.

We willingly take up the torch of justice, for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS; to work to rid our communities of intolerance and bigotry; to commit our lives to the work of reconciliation.

We commit to nourish the hope that arises in the many communities we represent, and promise to respond faithfully to HIV/AIDS around the world.

Though our journeys to God differ, we respond to a common call to love by welcoming the stranger, comforting the afflicted, standing with the suffering and the downcast.

Together and alone, we will work to ensure all people access to treatment, care, compassion, and mercy; to respond to the need around us; to bring forth a generation without HIV/AIDS.

With the eyes of faith, we see and seek the day of the last one: the day of the last new HIV infection or the last mother-to-child transmission; the last time someone is stigmatized
 or bullied because of HIV/AIDS; and the last time someone dies from this disease.

We see and seek the day of the last one!

An anthem also included "Oh Happy Day" in an arrangement by Edwin Hawkins performed by the Washington Performing Arts Society's Men and Women of the Gospel Choir.

Oh happy day
 When Jesus washed
 He washed my sins away!
 Oh happy day
 Oh happy day
 He taught me how to watch
 and fight and pray
 yes, fight and pray
 Oh happy day
 And he'll rejoice in things we say
 we say yes, things we say
 Oh happy day

It closed with Siyahamba, a short South African hymn which is often sung with both Zulu and English lyrics stating "We are marching in the light of God."


More on the web:

From Darkness to Light': An Interfaith Service of Hope and Commitment

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