By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published December 9, 2010
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory shared encouraging words with parishioners from around the archdiocese during a Mass to commemorate World AIDS Day and the continuing efforts of Catholics working with those suffering from the disease.
“Without a great deal of attention, thousands of people are serving Christ present in those who suffer from a ‘plague’ of our own day,” said Archbishop Gregory. “The Catholic Church throughout the world and especially in the most impoverished nations is the single largest provider of medical care and outreach to those who are HIV/AIDS positive.”
“Most do so without acclaim, without any desire to be known for their courage, their holiness, or their generosity,” he continued. “They do so simply because they believe that Christ is to be found among those that may often appear most unlikely.”
The Mass was held at St. Ann Church on Dec. 5 and highlighted the Marietta parish’s own AIDS ministry, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Established in 1990 in response to a letter from Archbishop Eugene A. Marino, SSJ, to all parishes, the St. Ann’s AIDS Ministry was formed as LaSalette Father Gene Barrette helped guide a group of concerned parishioners.
Sharon Collins, who has been involved with the St. Ann’s ministry for many years, spoke before the Mass to thank those from around the archdiocese who have been instrumental in keeping these ministries successful and to encourage others to get involved.
“People whose simple ‘yes’ changed the remaining weeks, months, years left for someone struggling to live with AIDS,” she said. “These people would serve a meal, make hospital visits, babysit, scrub floors, buy groceries, just sit with an individual or even plan a memorial service, and at times even hold a broken, suffering soul against their heart, rocking them to sleep, sometimes even being there at that last breath.”
“Today, we honor the LaSalette community for their unending support for 20 years here at St. Ann’s and all of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and their remarkable AIDS ministries and all of the individuals we have been privileged to serve,” she continued. “Surely they have blessed us with the opportunity to experience the God of compassion and love and to use that special gift God has created in you.”
Other parishes and their respective ministries were also represented at the Mass including Our Lady of Lourdes, Atlanta, Holy Cross, Atlanta, St. Philip Benizi, Jonesboro, and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Atlanta.
The Mass began with the procession of a banner that read “Those Who Have Touched Us,” featuring the names of many of the people who have served in or been served by the local ministries. While it sometimes seems that AIDS has slipped out of the main focus in this country, many continue to work behind the scenes.
“There is still a great deal that we do not know about this dreaded illness and this frightens all of us. We are afraid because its victims are found among every socio-economic, age, racial, religious and ethnic portion of our society,” said Archbishop Gregory. “In spite of all that we do not know about this disease, there is one inescapable reality: There are thousands who are ill and alone as they face an uncertain future.”
“It will take nothing less than a 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 long tradition of our Church,” he added.
Following the Mass, a group of AIDS ministry leaders met with Dr. Heidi Tauscher, parish and social justice ministries director for Catholic Charities Atlanta, to discuss how the different parish groups can help each other move forward in their ministries.
“Catholic Charities took the opportunity to hold a meeting of the HIV/AIDS ministers who were able to attend the HIV/AIDS Mass,” said Tauscher. “The gist of the meeting is that we will be working together to revitalize the HIV/AIDS Ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Catholic Charities will be acting as the hub of coordination and communication for the various parish HIV/AIDS ministers.”
Tauscher highlighted the importance of the work of the parishes and their leaders, including Collins of St. Ann’s, Kathy Parker of IHM, Deacon Chester Griffin, Janis Griffin and Dominican Sister Nora Ryan of Our Lady of Lourdes, Atlanta, John Patterson of St. Philip Benizi, and Pam Dorsett of Holy Cross.
“We are planning to link the parishes with each other and other parish social justice ministries as well as existing volunteers and resources,” she added. “Also, we hope to facilitate the exchange of ideas and best practices, with emphasis upon HIV/AIDS ministers seeding and supporting new HIV/AIDS ministries in other parishes. Emphasis will be placed upon the empowerment of lay ministers, as well as coordination and collaboration between parishes.”
“Catholic Charities intends to support those ministering to persons affected by HIV/AIDS, encourage education of adults and adolescents stemming the spread of this disease, and provide opportunities for HIV/AIDS ministers to grow in their Catholic faith and ministry,” she said.
If you are interested in starting or revitalizing an AIDS ministry in your own parish, contact Dr. Heidi Tauscher, parish and social justice ministries director for Catholic Charities Atlanta, at (404) 885-7208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.