Church is a 'Space for Hope' for HIV Victims, Leaders Say

Faith leaders gave their addresses on World AIDS Day on Tuesday, many of them stressing the importance of the church as a "space for hope" in ministering to victims of the HIV/AIDS virus, especially regarding the social symptoms of stigma and denial associated with the disease.

In a video interview with Tearfund HIV Ambassador the Rev. Patricia Sawo, Anglican head Dr. Rowan Williams said that the church can, "Provide space for people to face themselves, to be themselves, and to cope with their future."

Sawo, an HIV positive mother and church leader from Kenya, shared her own experience, saying, "What makes me hopeful is the Church, and the love that a woman can receive in the Church. Hoping in faith that all things are possible, but at the same time making it a reality by having the space in the Church where women can grow to be themselves, and be able to face all kinds of life challenges."

Giving the example of her own church, Sawo said, "In some churches they talk about HIV and AIDS and in some they still don't, but in my church it's not a 'big thing'; it's something that we talk about. My congregation knows about my status and people in my church know that this is a place where if they come, they can be loved."

"Therefore, many people have turned to me when they are HIV positive, which shows that if church leaders availed themselves, (if) they have accurate information, the support is there," she continued. "They can be there for the people, the space can be there."

"We know that transmission from mother to child is now something that can be dealt with," Williams said. "We need to encourage all our governments to keep up their commitment to making this medical help available, and to giving that hope which we know is possible. And in all of that, the churches have a crucial role."

"So we can pray that all our congregations will be themselves the agents of hope that they have the capacity to be."

Pope Benedict XVI gave similar remarks on Sunday during his weekly Angelus message, saying, "The Church does not cease to combat AIDS, through her institutions and the personnel dedicated to it. I exhort everyone to make their own contribution with prayer and care, so that those who are affected by the HIV virus will feel the presence of the Lord who gives support and hope."

"Finally, I hope that, by multiplying and coordinating efforts, this sickness will be halted and eradicated," Benedict continued, mentioning that his thoughts and prayers go out especially to the children affected with the disease.

According to reports from the World Health Organization and the United Nations, AIDS currently affects 33.4 million people worldwide, 2.1 million of them being children. In Africa, the virus has orphaned over 14 million children.

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