Today is World AIDS Day. Fr John Sherrington cp, gave the following homily at the World AIDS Mass on Sunday, 28 November 2004, in the Church of the Assumption, Warwick Street, London W1. This day is for me a day of celebrating solidarity, solidarity with our sisters and brothers living with HIV/AIDS, with their partners, families and friends. I have been blessed by knowing so many of them. For six years of my twenty-two years as a Priest Worker I worked as a Home Carer in the London Borough of Islington working as part of a team in ICARE the service for those affected by HIV/AIDS. This enabled me to be in their homes, assisting them with cleaning, washing & ironing, shopping, etc all those humdrum things, ordinary, but important to them. I remember how many were so weakened by the virus, some almost unable to put one foot in front of the other, often using my shoulder as a support. In the early days many of them were gay men but later there were more and more women, especially those from African countries. The women had a double burden: the virus, and children and families to care for, all the demands of schooling etc piled on top and all this living in a strange land. This capped by the paralysing fear of their HIV/AIDS status becoming known and stigmatising them here, and even back home. The latter seemed an even worse catastrophe hanging over them. I remember fondly an elderly African woman of great courage who had come over here to care for her young grandchildren (all at school) because her sons and daughters were all dead because of the AIDS virus. Last week I had the opportunity, as part of "Passionist International", to attend a United Nations NGO briefing in New York on "Women, Violence and HIV/AIDS" where the representative panel of women renewed the demand for zero tolerance of gender based violence as one of the means of reversing the globalisation of HIV/AIDS. Violence (including domestic) against women affects the well-being of the whole community and negates her ability even to negotiate conjugal relations. It is important that we work in solidarity on the global as well as the local level. There was criticism of "religion." Sadly some of the Churches advocate praying not medication, and we are not without sometimes bizarre utterances about HIV/AIDS coming from our own Church. But here we are as members of our own Church showing its other face, celebrating our solidarity with those affected by HIV/AIDS and also learning from them. We are evangelised by them, that is, the Good News proclaimed from them (gay and others) to us, by their courage, their love and concern for each other, their perseverance, their hope, the shear grasp of humanity reaching out of pain and anguish to something new. For me as a Passionist I see in them, sisters and brothers who carry, with great fortitude, in their own bodies the blessed wounds of the suffering Christ. Those who stigmatise them crown them with thorns, and like the original crown of thorns it is made by men, not by God. St Paul says "we are co-crucified in Christ" (in Greek: synestauromai) Gal 2.19; and to Paul we the community experience this as, death and resurrection simultaneously. Ours is a God whose love for our affected sisters and brothers and us endured the "shame of the crucifixion" so that we might know we are never abandoned, and as Christ says in today's Gospel "the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour"; but will we recognise him in our affected sisters and brothers?
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