Africa's Bishops Back Pope in AIDS Message

Affirm Church Is Truly Present in Fight

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ACCRA, Ghana, NOV. 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Representing the "most efficient" and "most truly present player in the fight against AIDS," bishops of Africa say that this is no time to diminish efforts in the fight.

This was the affirmation in a message for the Dec. 1 World AIDS Day from the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

The message, signed by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, noted that "the theme this year, 'Universal Access and Human Rights,' challenges discriminatory laws, policies and practices that stand in the way of access for all to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support."

The bishops' message comes with the authority gained by the fact that the "Church is second to none in facing HIV in Africa and caring for people infected and affected."

"Earlier this year," the message stated, "responding to a journalist en route to the continent, Pope Benedict XVI said: 'The most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against AIDS is the Catholic Church herself.' And we African bishops know he is right."

Body of Christ

Cardinal Pengo lamented that "official concerns about the pandemic are receding" and exclaimed "the Body of Christ has AIDS, and [we] express our pastoral determination as Family of God to provide fitting responses. For our continent is still the worst afflicted."

The bishops' message noted that it is false to presume "treatment is now available to everyone."

Instead, the statement explained, only a third of those who need treatment get it and, after two years, only 60% are still on treatment; for every two people on treatment, five are newly infected. Globally new HIV infections are still outnumbering those going on treatment and those dying of AIDS. 

"The number of orphans, abused, vulnerable and infected children continues to grow exponentially," the cardinal affirmed. "Stigma remains a powerful enemy. The Church knows very well the real impact of HIV and of AIDS upon her sons and daughters, and it will be so for decades to come."

Papal wisdom

Though Benedict XVI's warning that condoms are not the solution to AIDS caused an international media stir when he visited Africa in March, the bishops affirmed that the Pope is right.

They said, "[W]e seriously warn that the problem cannot be overcome by relying exclusively or primarily on the distribution of prophylactics. Only a strategy based on education to individual responsibility in the framework of a moral view of human sexuality, especially through conjugal fidelity, can have a real impact on the prevention of this disease."

In fact, the SECAM message continues, it is the Church's understanding of marriage that "prompts the most effective behaviors for preventing the sexual transmission of disease: namely, abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage."

Call to youth

Cardinal Pengo had a poignant invitation for young Africans.

"We address ourselves particularly to our youth, in whom we firmly believe," the message said. "Let no one deceive you into thinking that you cannot control yourself. 

"Abstinence is the best protection. For those who are not married, it is also the only moral course of action. Accordingly, formation of the human person is the true recipe, the key to it all, and we are intent on preparing you to be tomorrow's salt of the earth and light of the world, active, generous and responsible members of society and Church."

The SECAM message concluded with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin: "May our Holy Mother Mary, Queen of Africa and Health of the Sick, intercede for us at the throne of grace."

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On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text of the SECAM message: www.zenit.org/article-27676?l=english