Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Theme Of Dignity Linked To HIV/AIDS Prevention

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published May 5, 2005

At the 2005 “Pascua Juvenil,” Hispanic young adults heard about the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, which affects many Latinos, but heard about it in light of the theme of human dignity.

Brenda Tirado Torres, a member of the National Catholic AIDS Network and a volunteer with the archdiocesan AIDS ministry, spoke of many forces that contribute to young people having a sense of loss of personal dignity, such as being poor, being of a certain nationality or being burdened by their own past mistakes. Yet God-given dignity cannot be taken away, Torres said.

“The world is always going to find a justification for denying our dignity. We don’t remember that our very life, our mere existence, gives us the right to respect our dignity,” she said.

In his final years, Pope John Paul II displayed the gratitude for life he had always preached, she said. “Neither the sicknesses nor his age prevented him from demonstrating in his actions his gratitude to God for the gift of life.”

During a 2002 meeting the pope said: “Neither human life nor the human being can be treated as an object to be manipulated or like a disposable commodity. Rather, every human being, in whatever stage of existence, from his conception to natural death, is given from the Creator a sublime dignity that demands the greatest respect and vigilance by individuals, communities, nations and international bodies.”

Every day young people must make choices either for dignity or destruction, for life or death, she said, such as a pregnant woman abstaining from alcohol and from smoking for the good of her child, and later raising the child with love and affirmation, and children resisting drugs, premarital sex and alcohol. Children who don’t receive love at home are the ones more likely to turn to crime, gangs, drugs and other acts against their dignity, Torres said. She asserted that sexual activity even without intercourse is a violation of one’s dignity as one is treated as an object.

“God loves us and wants to give us the opportunity to enjoy life with another person” in a permanent relationship for those called to the vocation of marriage, she said.

A White House study in 2000 found that youth who are sexually active had their first sexual experience at an average age of 12. There are now 25 sexually transmitted diseases in the general population, including AIDS, which has disproportionately high rates in the United States among Latinos and African-Americans.

Latinos often receive an HIV diagnosis at a late stage of the illness, because of lack of insurance, fear of going to the doctor because of immigration status, and a stigma against talking about sex.

The alarming statistics are that nearly a million people in the country have HIV and almost a million more have AIDS, and in the Hispanic community “HIV infections are spreading out of control.”

Torres encouraged those who have ever had risk of exposure to be tested for the virus. She also said that knowing who they are in God’s eyes is critical to making right choices.

“The reality is that until your hearts and minds are convinced that you are children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit and worthy of respect and dignity, you are not going to have the tools to be able to fight against the pressures you constantly face,” she said.

It’s also imperative that Christians overcome the stigma against those infected and that they be treated with the utmost dignity.

“AIDS is the great opportunity that we all have, and particularly you, the young people, to demonstrate the respect for your own dignity and the dignity of your loved ones, to take care of yourself and protect yourself in virtue. AIDS is the great opportunity that has presented itself from the end of the last century to put in practice the mercy and compassion that Jesus Christ preached and taught so much. AIDS is the great reminder to convince us that all, regardless of their past and errors committed, have a right to life, to a life in which our dignity is respected as children of God,” Torres said.

She told the group that if anyone thinks they don’t know anyone affected they are wrong, as her brother Javier died five years ago of the disease.

“And now because you have met me you are also affected by AIDS. But not only because today you met a women who shared having been affected by the plague of this century, but because you are children of God, and AIDS is a problem of the people of God … Regardless of mistakes made in the past, whose consequences we must face, regardless of if we are tarnished and broken … nobody can say we’ve lost our value. Nothing and nobody can take away our dignity as God’s children.”

Irene Miranda, director of the archdiocesan AIDS ministry, manned a booth during the conference and said many people came by her table and spoke of the need for presentations on the subject at their parishes. Sadly, others came by just wanting to talk about their experience of being infected or to ask for prayers or support, including one 19-year-old from Mexico who told of how he didn’t know of the disease when he came here, being from a rural village in Mexico.

“His story was repeated by a few others who approached us to talk about how they came to this country to work and now they are sick. They have no family, no support system and cannot work. On top of that they lack health care coverage. Many become homeless because they are too sick to work,” she said. “This experience reaffirmed our belief in the work that our HIV/AIDS ministry has been doing, reaching out to those affected by this scourge. As Catholic HIV/AIDS ministers, we reach out with compassion and non-judgment to those who become infected. We have a wonderful example in Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who served those with AIDS, referring to them as ‘Christ in his most distressing disguise.’”

The event also reaffirmed the need for more preventative education and support for all people of the archdiocese. “We also need to stress Catholic-based prevention and awareness among our young people very early in their life journey. We just present them with the facts so that they can make informed life choices based on the teachings of our Catholic Church,” Miranda said.

Attendee Oscar Granados from Mexico believes that Torres and Miranda have “a very important message for today’s young people.” And he appreciated “more than anything the unity of the youth and the humility of the people” at the event.