By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published December 11, 2014
JONESBORO—With glowing candles in hand, families of loved ones lost to AIDS and volunteers of parish ministries sang “Amazing Grace” at the 2014 World AIDS Day Mass Dec. 3 at St. Philip Benizi Church.
The annual Mass commemorates those living with HIV/AIDS, those who have lost their lives, and their caretakers.
Prudy and Jim Martino come each year to the Mass, and this year they were joined by some of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In 1993, the Martinos lost their son Mark to AIDS. He had been living with the illness for almost five years prior to his death.
“Mark was our seventh child,” said Prudy Martino. “He was taking treatments. He was in one of the pilot groups.”
On a red and white quilt hanging nearby, a picture of Mark in healthier times is displayed with the words, “You will never be forgotten.”
Even in illness, Mark Martino worked to help others by answering phones on an AIDS hotline. He also left gifts behind for all of the grandchildren in the family.
“Our whole family supported Mark, which made us very proud,” said Prudy.
Rose Campbell started St. Philip Benizi’s AIDS ministry in 1997. A nurse who had moved to Jonesboro from California, Campbell saw the need to reach out to the suffering.
“I used to work with oncology and AIDS patients,” said Campbell.
While much progress has been made both medically and in how society treats people with HIV/AIDS, there remains work to be done. HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, causes AIDS, an acronym for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. First described in 1981, HIV interferes with the body’s ability to fight disease, damaging the immune system. HIV does not automatically lead to AIDS and drug regimens have been developed that assist those with HIV to live longer. However, there is not yet a cure.
“There’s still a lot of fear,” said Campbell.
The Mass and other events are important, said Campbell, as they bring awareness.
“We’ve got to continue teaching our youth,” she said.
Mildred Williams, a St. Philip Benizi parishioner, has been involved in the parish’s ministry from the beginning. Williams had a personal connection to HIV/AIDS.
“I had a cousin who had AIDS from a blood transfusion,” she said.
Mark Sater, Williams’ cousin, had been working in China when his appendix ruptured and he needed a transfusion. Before 1985, blood collection agencies didn’t have a test to detect HIV in donated blood so those receiving transfusions were at risk. He was just 36 years old when he died.
The ministry at the Jonesboro parish provides financial assistance and emotional support.
“We help pay bills when bills need to be paid. We try to help families with the grief process,” said Williams.
John Patterson has also been serving since the ministry’s creation. He regularly visits hospitals and jails to comfort those with AIDS.
“We light this candle for those who live in silence and suffer alone,” he said as volunteers began to light the candles of others from one flame.
Two people served by the ministry have died in the last year. They are now memorialized alongside Mark Martino on the parish quilt.
Accompany those pushed ‘to the side’
Bishop David Talley celebrated the Mass with St. Philip Benizi’s pastor, Father John Koziol, OFM Conv., and Father John Adamski.
Celebrated on the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, Bishop Talley focused on another Francis—the bishop of Rome. He called upon all to read Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
When we see a person with HIV/AIDS or any malady, we must accompany them, he urged.
“We walk with them … never judging,” said Bishop Talley.
The bishop reminded the families and volunteers of Christ’s words that all are to be the “bread that I will bless.”
If we are not trying to be like Christ, then the name of Jesus will just become something for history books, noted the bishop.
“When we live Christ, Christ is alive,” said Bishop Talley.
When someone has AIDS or Ebola, or anything that “pushes them to the side,” we must give of ourselves, he said.
“That’s the vision of the kingdom,” said Bishop Talley.
In 1989, Bishop Talley was a brand new priest. He shared a story at the Mass about those early days.
There was a very ill man, diagnosed with AIDS, who wanted to become Catholic and had been preparing for the sacraments of initiation. A deacon and fellow priest asked then-Father Talley to go and visit the man at the hospital.
“The young man was obviously near death,” said Bishop Talley. He celebrated Mass for three people in the hospital room, baptized and confirmed him, and celebrated his first Eucharist.
“He was filled with joy. The next day I found out that he died,” said Bishop Talley.
At the family’s request, Bishop Talley conducted an ecumenical funeral service. The man’s family sat in front of the church, and one man sat alone in the very back, weeping.
Bishop Talley then walked down the center aisle to demonstrate the distance.
“The distance between the family of those who suffer and those who feel no longer a part of us … we have to be the bridge,” he said. “Jesus of Nazareth is the bridge for those who no longer talk to one another.”
39 million have died
According to the World Health Organization, almost 78 million people have been infected with HIV, 39 million people have died, and globally an estimated 35 million were living with HIV at the end of 2013.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults living with HIV and accounting for nearly 71 percent of the people living with HIV worldwide.
Justice & Peace Ministries of the Archdiocese of Atlanta offers HIV/AIDS parish grants, “Speak Out, Take Action, Pray.”
Kat Doyle, ministries director, said that grant funds are set aside from the Annual Appeal and can be used to offset the costs associated with education and awareness and advocacy on behalf of those infected with HIV/AIDS.
Education and awareness programs might include: providing special literature and activities focusing on education and prevention of the virus; providing targeted information about HIV/AIDS to the communities most at risk, especially the African-American and Hispanic communities, women, and youth; providing information on the crisis in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church; and promoting events such as an AIDS walk or AIDS Day program.
Doyle said that she also hopes some of the suburban parishes can connect with more urban parishes with active AIDS ministries.
Parishes within the archdiocese with active ministries include Sacred Heart Basilica, Holy Cross Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Our Lady of Lourdes Church and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, all in Atlanta. Other parishes active in supporting AIDS patients and families are St. John Neumann, Lilburn, St. Thomas More, Decatur, and St. Philip Benizi.
God ‘will wipe away the tears’
On Mark Martino’s quilt panel, he is described with the words, “loving, thoughtful, generous, caring, kind and happy.”
Nearly 22 years after his death, his parents and siblings attend the World AIDS Day Mass wearing red ribbons to remember him.
Jim Martino presented the first reading of the Mass from Isaiah 25.
He read slowly with much care given to the words: “On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
For more information on the HIV/AIDS parish grants for awareness and advocacy programs, contact Kat Doyle, director of Justice & Peace Ministries, at email@example.com or 404-920-7897. To see a video on the World AIDS Day Mass, visit here.