Message for World AIDS Day - learning to face AIDS as a family

Fratern Masawe SJ, JESAM Moderator has sent the following message to all the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar for World AIDS Day (1 December)

Dear companions and friends in the Lord, on this World AIDS Day I invite you to meditate with me on our learning to face AIDS as a family.

When AIDS began to afflict Africa about 25 years ago, few of us reacted well. People who were HIV-positive or suffered from AIDS could easily find themselves condemned, rejected, cast out and treated "as good as dead". How different things must be now, wherever belonging God's family means reacting as Jesus showed us.

Many spiders working together can tie up a lion.

Fifteen years ago the first Synod for Africa enculturated and indeed africanized Vatican II with the inspiring expression Church-Family of God in Africa. The Church has invited her sons and daughters to re-imagine what it means to be Christian as a family community.

For the last seven years now, the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) has been enabling our Assistancy to develop ways of facing HIV and AIDS in our works and communities, individually and with our co-workers, as Ignatian family.

It takes more than one stream to fill a river.

We cannot home in on 'the problem' without understanding the context, the rich cluster of complex factors which encircle any human situation. AIDS is a pandemic, together with malaria and tuberculosis, which is decimating African populations and severely damaging their economic and social life. It is not to be looked at as either merely a medical-pharmaceutical problem or solely as an issue of a change in human behaviour. It is truly an issue of integral development and justice, which requires a holistic approach and response by the Church (Synod). So HIV-AIDS, neither most important nor negligible, takes its place amidst the great challenges and inter-related problems facing Africa.

Whoever has seen the sun before you, passes the light of life to you.

Our African family is a seamless community binding the living and the not-yet-born and the living dead who have gone before. So facing AIDS includes the ancestors, and one thing they surely regard is sexuality. Sexuality has always been seen in Africa as morally neutral, neither good nor bad, part of what it means to be human. A comparison is instructive.

Fire, if controlled and tamed, is useful in preparing a meal; out of control, it can burn the roof and consume the whole house.

Likewise, sexuality needs to be channelled and disciplined so that its life-giving potential is fulfilled and its destructiveness curbed. Both our traditional African cultures and our way of life as Christians give norms for living out one's sexuality for the long-term good of everyone.

That's not how everyone sees it, of course. The Church's understanding of sexuality is often scorned for being rigid, unrealistic or  moralistic. Some think that the fire should rage free and untamed, even in the face of AIDS. This can be a seductive message for younger members of our family who are just discovering their sexuality and for older ones, too. But in truth many seek guidance on how to live it in a healthy way. So it is very important for the Church to get her > life-affirming message across today to everyone. Abstinence and fidelity are not only the best ways to avoid HIV and tackle AIDS, but are the path to real, personal fulfilment. Honest moral education encourages a healthy approach to relationships and to sexuality based on respect and love for others. In particular, unmarried young people who would like to practice sexual abstinence before marriage - probably a significant majority among Christians and Muslims and even in society as a whole - need the Church to form and care for them pastorally and stand up for them in public.

Fire that is surrounded by elders cannot burn you.

Within our family, couples who are discordant or doubly-infected face a particularly difficult situation. They deserve pastoral support which informs and forms their consciences, so that they might choose what is right, with full responsibility for the greater good of each other, their union and their family (Synod). Jesuit pastors and counsellors should be ready to accompany them sensitively, help them with formation and
information, and support them in their fidelity.
Besides sexuality, there are other important causes which fuel the spread of HIV. Thousands of people, for example, are infected because of poverty, hunger, war and forced displacement, domestic violence and the sex trade. Thus, sin wreaks destruction, hurts our brothers and sisters, and weighs heavily on us all. Anyone who wants to understand how HIV-AIDS impact on human life must consider economics, politics, society and culture, as well as the more immediate personal and family issues.

AIDS cuts across all the disciplines which promote social justice in Africa. Many Church programmes, including ours, fight for access to comprehensive care treatment, with testing, medication for opportunistic infections, food and support to earn a living. The aim is to live like a family: to respect the dignity and life of each one, to show solidarity with anyone in need.

One finger can't do all the work.

We should not be afraid of, less still be discouraged, by the enormity of the problems of our continent among which HIV and AIDS. It is part of life and will be for a long time to come. As a great family, we face the challenge confidently. We plead for sustained support to meet the needs of many for assistance. We know that our all-provident Father is at our side. This faith gives us compassion and perseverance.

An army of well organised ants can bring down an elephant.

Like Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the Holy Family, so the Church-Family of God in Africa knows her sons and daughters, their needs, strengths and weaknesses, fears and hopes. She manifests this loving knowledge in her familiar ways of preventing HIV and caring for the sick and for those affected by AIDS, working for reconciliation, justice and peace. With the Synod, JESAM thanks all those who are generously involved in this
difficult apostolate of love and care.

Fratern Masawe SJ
JESAM Moderator

Message to all the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar

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