ROME – The work of the Catholic Church in Africa to stem the spread of HIV and to care for people living with AIDS is designed to respect the dignity and life of each person and to show solidarity with everyone in need, said the moderator of the Jesuit superiors in Africa and Madagascar.
In a statement prepared for the Dec. 1 commemoration of World AIDS Day, Jesuit Father Fratern Masawe said that when AIDS first began to afflict Africa 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.’“
Over the years, Catholic agencies, including the African Jesuit AIDS Network, have worked to prevent the spread of HIV, defend the dignity of people who are HIV-positive and offer medical treatment and other assistance to those living with AIDS.
The United Nations estimates that more than 33 million people worldwide are HIV-infected and that two-thirds of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Father Masawe, a Tanzanian, said that African cultures traditionally have seen sexuality as “morally neutral, neither good nor bad, part of what it means to be human.”
But, he said, individuals obviously can use their sexuality in a way that fulfills its life-giving purpose or in a way that becomes harmful and destructive.
“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,” the Jesuit wrote.
“The church’s understanding of sexuality is often scorned for being rigid, unrealistic or moralistic,” he said, but many Africans seek guidance for living their sexuality in a healthy way.
“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 fulfillment,” Father Masawe’ s statement said.
The Jesuit encouraged all his confreres in Africa to follow the recommendation of the recent Synod of Bishops for Africa when dealing with couples where one or both spouses are HIV-positive.
The synod said the work of church personnel is to provide the kind of pastoral support and moral guidance that would help such couples “choose what is right with full responsibility for the greater good of each other, their union and their family,” including whether or not to use condoms to prevent the spread of the HIV infection.
Father Masawe said it is important to recognize that sexuality is not the only factor involved in the spread of AIDS, particularly in Africa.
“Thousands of people, for example, are infected because of poverty, hunger, war and forced displacement, domestic violence and the sex trade,” he said. “Thus, sin wreaks destruction, hurts our brothers and sisters and weighs heavily on all of us.”
In combating HIV and AIDS, he said, “the aim is to live like a family: to respect the dignity and life of each one, to show solidarity with anyone in need.”