By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published December 6, 2012
In solidarity with faith communities around the world, the Archdiocese of Atlanta commemorated the annual World AIDS Day with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
Some 100 people gathered at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Saturday, Dec. 1, to remember those who have lost their lives and join in prayer with Catholics throughout the country and globe.
The USCCB states that World AIDS Day “is a day when the entire community recognizes the impact of HIV and AIDS and its effects on the global family. World AIDS Day is also a day when the world joins hands and hearts to address the pain, the stigma, and the great loss of so many lives.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated more than one million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS. Up to 25 percent of those may not know they have the virus. Each year, approximately 40,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV/AIDS.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory commented on how Advent is an appropriate time for people to reflect on how they can become more aware of the AIDS struggle and consider how to become involved with helping those who are afflicted with the virus.
“During this season we are a people who must live in three distinct times,” the archbishop said. “We belong to today but are strengthened because of the events of yesterday, even as we wait for the fulfillment of tomorrow.”
“Thus Advent is a more than appropriate time to recall and recommit ourselves to the eradication and the conquering of HIV/AIDS,” he continued. “This dreaded disease has a past filled with too much sorrow for countless people who still grieve the loss of a loved one. HIV/AIDS also has a present moment filled with the courageous witness and loving compassion of people who have dedicated themselves to caring for all of their brothers and sisters who live with this disease, and we continue to work for its eradication we pray in the not too distant future.”
Various parishes within the Archdiocese of Atlanta do their own work through AIDS ministries, including IHM, which has an active ministry in the local area. The group supports other Atlanta AIDS programs including Living Room, which helps people with HIV/AIDS transition from homelessness or unstable housing to permanent housing, and Jerusalem House, a residential program for homeless people with HIV/AIDS.
Kathy Parker, who has spent the last 12 years leading the IHM AIDS ministry, said that the AIDS problem is not going away and that Catholics need to continue working with and for those affected by the disease.
“Most people think it is not a problem anymore,” she said, noting that the South is particularly affected, with Georgia having the eighth highest number of AIDS cases in the United States. “It is important to keep it on the radar.”
Joan Moore, a parishioner of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, is also involved with the IHM AIDS ministry. She was first exposed to AIDS patients in the early 1980s when she worked in the radiology department at Piedmont Hospital. In the 1990s she lost both a son-in-law and a cousin to the disease and has since been regularly ministering to AIDS patients.
Moore echoed Parker’s statements about AIDS not getting much attention in recent years, especially among the younger generation.
“The young people are not thinking about it, and they should be,” said Moore. “They feel nothing can harm them.”
Moore believes if more people were exposed to the ministries and spent a little time volunteering, they would have a greater respect for the suffering of HIV/AIDS victims.
While it is true that fewer people are dying from AIDS in the U.S. due to advancements in medicine, there are still a significant number of people in this country and abroad who are suffering and dying from the disease. The medical component of care is of great importance, but Catholics must not deny the role of spiritual and emotional support that they can provide.
“While medical science continues successfully to probe the causes and to discover possible cures that will alleviate human suffering from this plague, we people of faith are asked to double and to redouble our spiritual and compassionate support of those who have been impacted by the disease,” said the archbishop.
“We are called in faith to provide the spiritual strength and comfort that is equally important to those whose lives have been traumatized by the illness.”