By BRENDA TIRADO TORRES-Special To The Bulletin | Published December 22, 2005
“Comfort my people.” This is the message that Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory conveyed to Catholic AIDS ministers of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in his homily during the Mass for a World Living With AIDS celebrated Dec. 4 at Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta.
The Mass ended the “Week of Prayer for a World Living With AIDS,” organized by the archdiocesan Office of HIV/AIDS Ministry to bring to the attention of the Catholic community in North Georgia the plight of millions whose lives have been impacted by the AIDS pandemic.
“Those who serve Christ in others are really the ones who find their own lives. Without a great deal of attention, thousands of people are serving Christ present in those who suffer from a ‘plague’ of our own day, and they do so simply because they believe that Christ is to be found among those that may often appear most unlikely,” said the archbishop during his homily.
He told AIDS ministers that today’s dilemma is to remind human hearts and minds that illness, even of catastrophic magnitude, cannot rob individuals of their human worth. The best way to achieve it is by praying for, serving and assisting those who suffer from AIDS, and this means dying to our own fears so that we can be alive with the compassion of Christ for others, he added.
Making reference to the bubonic plague in the 14th century, the archbishop explained how in the middle of hysteria, there were people who must have startled their communities by facing the scourge with Christ-centered compassion through their willingness to care for those who suffered from a disease that was shrouded by mystery.
The leader of the Catholic Church in Atlanta explained that fear comes from the fact that there is a great deal that is unknown about AIDS, particularly when its victims represent an ever-widening portion of society. But in spite of that, there is the inescapable reality of thousands who are ill and alone.
“It will take nothing less than dying to our own fears in order for us to extend the compassion that is rooted in Christ and demanded by the Gospel and supported by the tradition of the Church,” he said. “Without compromising the Church’s moral heritage and position, we must all work to bring Christian mercy to those who may perhaps exist on the very brink of bitterness, despair and hopelessness.”
During the prayer of the faithful, all present were invited to say the names of friends or relatives who had died from AIDS-related complications. Among the voices was that of Archbishop Gregory himself, who shared the names of some friends of his who have passed away from the disease.
The archbishop called on AIDS ministers to encourage each other and pray with and for one another, as well as for those touched by the HIV disease.
“May the day soon dawn when this illness will be relegated to the pages of history, along with other scourges suffered by humanity,” he said. “But may the courage and Christian example of those who lovingly care for their suffering sisters and brothers remain always a harvest of hope for all who believe that Christ is indeed to be found in the very persons whom we might suspect would be the least of his sisters and brothers.”