KAMPALA, Uganda – Although no easy answers can be found in the suffering of people affected by HIV/AIDS, God is with them and their caregivers, said a South African bishop.
“There are no easy answers to the suffering of the people, and those who tell the poor and the sick that there is a cure are hiding the truth,” said Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustensburg, South Africa. “But the truth is that God is with us in all these suffering (people).
“I am not a specialist in HIV/AIDS, but I am simply sharing my story – the story of my people,” Bishop Dowling said during a series of talks on HIV/AIDS care sponsored by Hospice Africa in Uganda, a home-care organization. “I want to share with you how I have found the God of love in this ministry, because I truly believe God is with us to help us do his work.”
Jesus did not come to explain away suffering and did not tell people there is no suffering, said the bishop, but he wanted to feel people’s suffering.
Bishop Dowling explained that the Catholic Church in South Africa is the second-largest HIV/AIDS caregiver after the government. He said the South African government “has not had great leadership from the top as far as the fight against AIDS is concerned.”
He said HIV/AIDS care programs and hospices for the dying were in all South African dioceses. Services include prevention programs for youths, home care, the training of communities in AIDS care and providing antiretroviral drugs, he said.
“There are thousands of people in need of ARVs (antiretroviral drugs), but not even 200,000 people are able to access them,” he said. “As a matter of fact, 80 percent of the population is black, most of whom are poor, and you know AIDS flourishes in poverty, so they are the most affected.”
Bishop Dowling said the first time he got involved in HIV/AIDS care was in 1992.
“It was a nun doing health care in one of these areas who alerted us to the reality of the skyrocketing infection rates, and when I visited I found people dying in horrible conditions,” he recalled, adding that from then on he felt helping the sick was a call from God to him and the church.
“I believe that ministry in HIV/AIDS should be a central ministry,” said the bishop, whose residence is next to the Rustensburg Diocese’s hospice unit.
Also during the series of talks, representatives from Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative, a faith-based nongovernmental organization that serves a parish outside Kampala, recalled stories of how their initiative helped people.
Ruth Namukasa told how a volunteer found her in her smelly shack, provided her with medical care and gave her “a new life.” Namukasa is currently one of the volunteers who visit the sick.
Another woman, identified only as Margaret, told the story of being visited by a Reach Out volunteer. Margaret said she thought she had AIDS and did not want to spread it to the volunteer, but the volunteer insisted.
Eventually, Margaret was taken to the hospital, diagnosed with tuberculosis and found the medical care she needed.
“With the tender love, care and support I received from Reach Out, I am now able to live, and they have even offered me a job, and I still don’t have the words with which to thank Reach Out,” she said.