Cardinal Bertone's Address at AIDS Conference

"Let us not waste time and invest all the resources necessary"

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 22, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address given today by Benedict XVI's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. It was the opening address at the eighth International AIDS Conference, being held at the San Gallicano Institute in Rome under the title: "Long live mothers and children."

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Mr. Minister,

Distinguished Italian and International Authorities,

Dear Friends,

I received with pleasure the invitation to intervene at the opening of the works of this 8th International AIDS Conference, which is entitled “Long Live Mothers, Long Live Children.”

I greet the Authorities present and, in particular, the First Lady of the Republic of Guinea, Mrs. Djene Cone, Minister Andrea Riccardi, the numerous African Ministers of Health and the other directors and those in charge of the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers and health agents.

I address, then, a cordial and affectionate thought to the friends of Sant’Egidio Community who convoked this Conference to foster new and more effective ways in the fight against HIV/AIDS and to defend and promote the dignity of human life, above all where it is conceived and given birth.

I am also happy to be with you this year because I have the subject chosen very much at heart. In fact, the persons stricken by the HIV virus are in a situation of weakness, so that they are in need of care, assistance and support. However, the Church, present in countries where this pandemic manifests itself, is very preoccupied by this real tragedy of our time. It is a tragedy that swallows so many human lives, weakens whole societies, sears the future. More must be done! The more the infection progresses among women, who are the pillars of the family and communities, the more the risk increases of social collapse in not a few countries. The sickness of women, of children, of men becomes the sickness of the whole society. The Church is concerned about health. The example comes to her from Christ himself who, after having proclaimed the Word and healed the sick, invited his disciples to heal “every disease and every infirmity” (Matthew 10:1). It is what we are called to do. It is a mandate realized through the Church’s health institutions and so many Christians of good will.

Yes, the Church is resolutely committed to the fight against infirmities, diseases and the great pandemics, as she declared specifically at the Synod for Africa (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus III, 139).

Since the appearance of the terrible scourge of AIDS, the Catholic Church has always offered her contribution in preventing the transmission of the HIV virus and in assisting the sick and their families on the medical, social, spiritual and pastoral plane. The last Synod of Bishops for Africa affirmed it: “AIDS is a pandemic, which together with malaria and tuberculosis, is decimating the African population and strongly damaging its economic and social life” (2nd Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops – Proposal 51). And it is, in fact, so!

In the encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis, Blessed John Paul II reminded: “The citizens of rich countries, especially if they are Christians, have the moral obligation to take into consideration, in their personal and government decisions, this relationship of universality, this interdependence that subsists between their behavior and the poverty and underdevelopment of so many millions of men” (n. 9). We cannot be indifferent to a part of the world that is suffering and is sick. There is need for global answers to problems that have a global dimension. What is needed really is a globalization of solidarity!

At present about 30% of care centers for HIV/AIDS in the whole world are Catholic. In particular in Africa, the health care activities of the Church often provide the essential support to persons who live outside urban areas and in rural zones. Here the social needs of the people are enormous and the HIV/AIDS sick are so many. Many are the programs of formation, prevention, care and pastoral support of the HIV/AIDS sick, which the local Churches, the religious institutes and the Catholic associations carry out with love, a sense of responsibility and a spirit of charity.

Specifically, actions in the field of AIDS can be recalled thus: promotion of campaigns of sensitization, programs of prevention and health education, support to orphans, distribution of medicines and foods, home care, hospitals, centers, therapeutic communities for care and assistance of AIDS patients, collaboration with governments, care in prisons, courses of catechesis, elaboration of systems of help through the Internet, establishment of support groups for the sick.

Then, in 2004 Blessed John Paul II instituted “The Good Samaritan” Foundation,” entrusted to the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, to take help to the neediest sick, in particular the victims of AIDS.

For the Church to bend down, as the Good Samaritan, to the wounded man abandoned on the edge of the road is to do her utmost for that “greater justice” that Jesus asks of his disciples, because love is the fulfillment of the Law. We do so with passion every day and will continue to do so in the whole world.

I also thank Sant’Egidio Community for the work it does with the DREAM Program in Africa. With its 33 DREAM centers in 10 African countries, it is a model of indisputable efficacy in the results, but also of Christian commitment, of the capacity to be at the side of those who suffer, not just dispensing care, but considering each patient as a person, never reducing the individual to the sickness. In this way dignity can be restored to those who have been deprived of it because of the stigma that surrounds this disease.

Today the treatments already enable thousands of women to generate children free of AIDS and to see them grow, because they themselves, in the first place, are cured. It is a particularly effective sign of the love that defends life, when it is threatened by disease and poverty. It is love, in fact, “that makes of the human person the authentic image of God,” recalled the Holy Father at Milan a few days ago, on the occasion of the 7th World Meeting of Families. And this is, at bottom, the argument of our conference, which will certainly be rich in different contributions.

The fight against the scourge of AIDS imposes on us the need to address numerous concrete, economic, scientific and technical problems: but it is love that is at the root of this great work, a love that is “the only force that can really transform the world” (Benedict XVI, 7th World Meeting of Families – Milan, June 3, 2012). What more effective image of love is there than the relationship between the mother and the child? Whoever saves the mother and child saves the future of the world, it could be said!

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus, consigned during to the trip to Benin, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed: God wants every child to be happy and to smile, and his favour rests upon them, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:14) (No. 67). The Pope added: "In the name of life – which it is the Church’s duty to defend and protect – and in union with the Synod Fathers, I offer an expression of renewed encouragement and support to all the Church’s institutions and movements that are working in the field of healthcare, especially with regard to AIDS. You are doing wonderful and important work. I ask international agencies to acknowledge you and to offer you assistance, respecting your specific character and acting in a spirit of collaboration. Once again, I warmly encourage those institutes and programmes of therapeutic and pharmaceutical research which seek to eradicate pandemics. Spare no effort to arrive at results as swiftly as possible, out of love for the precious gift of life. May you discover solutions and provide everyone with access to treatments and medicines, taking account of uncertain situations! The Church, indeed, has been pleading for a long time for high quality medical treatment to be made available at minimum cost to all concerned” (No. 73).

I hope that, from this conference, with the participation of numerous and authoritative persons in charge of health, concrete proposal will emerge to save the life of what in the world is more fragile and at the same time more charged of future: children and their mothers.

Every child is in need of his mother to live. To take care of a mother also means to have healthy children born and to have them live. In Africa a child without a mother is exposed to the danger of losing his own life. Women reinforce, keep united, support the family and the family is guarantee of social cohesion. Hence, if we love our countries, we have the duty to protect the life of mothers. If we love the future, we must protect the life of mothers and children!

In the presence of so many authoritative Ministers and persons in charge of health care, I would like to address an appeal to the International Community, to States and to donors: let us provide soon to AIDS patients free and effective treatment! May universal access to treatment be agreed! Let us do so beginning with the mothers and children. In this See, in the name of the Holy Father, I make myself the voice of the many who are suffering, of so many patients who do not have a voice. Let us not waste time and invest all the resources necessary!

The results of DREAM and WHO’s prevention studies confirm it: the universal access to treatments is attainable, scientifically proved and economically possible. It’s not a utopia: it is possible! In Africa as in Europe, we have the duty to reach every seropositive pregnant woman, to administer to her the antiretroviral therapy, to enable her to give birth to a child free of AIDS and to enable him to grow with his maternal support. We cannot conceive access to treatment for all without considering the weakness – also economic – of the majority of the African populations and women. There is need for free access to treatments.

Maternal mortality in Africa is, in a strong percentage, linked to AIDS. We cannot continue to tolerate the death of so many mothers; we cannot think of thousands of children as a lost generation. Nothing is lost: Africa has sufficient energies and it is the Continent of hope! Hence we are asked for a new joint effort, an outburst of initiatives and imagination to protect woman as mother.

I ask all of you, in charge of Health in many African countries, researchers and doctors, international agencies, donors to make the greatest effort to alleviate the pain of so many sick mothers and to protect human life, to defend it from conception to its natural end. For every man, respect of life is a right and at the same time a duty, because every life is a gift of God.

Pope Benedict XVI, along with the whole Church, loves Africa: we are committed, with you, in the fight for life. We know that AIDS is not the fatal destiny of humanity. All of us together, with the help of God, have the possibility and the strength to defeat it. We have the duty to promote the gift of life with renewed energy. Thank you.

[Translation by ZENIT]