Vatican Message for World AIDS Day

“Dedicated This Year to Women”

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 24, 2004 ( The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers has released this statement for World AIDS Day.

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Message for the World AIDS Day
1 December 2004

To the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences
and to the Bishops Responsible for Pastoral Care in Health
in their Episcopal Conferences,
and to all the People of God

Dear Brothers,

1. For some years now, the World AIDS Day has been celebrated on 1 December. For this occasion, this year as well, I would like in my capacity as President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care to send a message communicating the nearness and encouragement of the Church to all those who are fighting against this devastating pandemic, to those who care for and treat people afflicted by HIV/AIDS, and to these last, who are personally experiencing the mystery of human suffering. This year the organisation of the United Nations for the AIDS programme (UNAIDS) has dedicated this year to women, to girls and HIV/AIDS, because of their greater vulnerability, compared to men, to contracting the HIV/AIDS virus. A study has demonstrated that they are infected 2.5 more times than men.

2. I share the concern of the international community about the dramatic picture of the consequences of this epidemic for the health, the living conditions, the prospects, the status and the dignity of women and girls in many regions of the world. Indeed, the impact of HIV/AIDS on women aggravates inequality and hinders progress towards the universality of rights. In addition, the more this infection advances amongst women, who are the columns of families and communities, the more the danger of social breakdown increases. The Church has always defended women and their very great dignity with especial vigour and is struggling to fight those examples of discrimination which still today in a great deal of our society require greater efforts to secure the elimination of disparities in relation to women in such sectors as education, the defence of health, and work.

3. HIV/AIDS is one of the most devastating epidemics of our times; it is a human drama which, because of its gravity and enormity, is one of the greatest health care challenges at a planetary level that now exists. The data presented in the report of the United Nations “The Impact of AIDS” of 2004 are clear in their message: since the appearance of this epidemic (in the 1980s) more than twenty-two million people have died in the world because of AIDS and at the present time forty-two million people live with HIV/AIDS. In 2003, 2.9 million people died because of AIDS and 4.8 million people were infected with HIV/AIDS. AIDS is the principal cause of death in people in the fifteen to forty-nine age band. In many countries, and especially in Africa and in the most afflicted countries such as Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, the AIDS epidemic spread rapidly bringing with it illness, death, poverty and pain. Recently, this pandemic has forcefully struck countries with a high number of inhabitants such as China and India. It is estimated that by 2025 AIDS will have caused the deaths of thirty-one million people in India and eighteen million people in China.

4. The situation for children is dramatic. Indeed, according to the data contained in the report of 2004 of UNICEF, UNAIDS and USAID, “Children on the Brink,” between 2001 and 2003 the overall number of children who have been made orphans by AIDS grew from 11.5 million to 15 million, in large part in Africa. It is estimated that by 2010 there will be in Sub-Saharan Africa 18.4 million children made orphans by HIV/AIDS. In 2003 alone 5.2 million children were made orphans by this epidemic. In addition, their increasing number is changing (above all in Africa) the traditional system of the welcoming of orphans into families because these, which are already poor, find it difficult to take responsibility for such children.

5. On many occasions John Paul II has addressed this question and has provided us with illuminating approaches that throw light on the nature of this disease, its prevention, the behaviour of patients and those who look after them, as well as the role that civil authorities and scientists should perform. I would like to emphasise his thinking as regards the immunodeficiency of moral and spiritual values and the accompanying of AIDS victims, to whom full care and services should be provided because they are the most in need. In particular, in his message for the World Day of the Sick 2005 (nn. 3-4), the Holy Father emphasises that the drama of AIDS is a “pathology of the spirit” and that for it to be combated in a responsible way it is necessary to increase prevention through education in respect for the sacred value of life and formation as regards the correct practice of sexuality.

6. We must banish the stigma that so often makes society harsh in relation to the AIDS victim. In order to dissipate the prejudices of those who fear the proximity of AIDS victims because they want to avoid contagion, we should remember that AIDS is only transmitted through the three routes of blood, the link between a mother and her unborn child, and sexual contact. All these routes of transmission must be combated effectively and thereby eliminated. As regards sexual contact, we should remember that contagion must be eliminated through responsible behaviour and observance of the virtue of chastity. In addition, the Pope, when referring to the Synod for Africa of 1994, repeats a recommendation formulated by the Bishops who took part in that Synod: “the affection, the joy, the happiness and the peace procured through Christian marriage and faithfulness, like the safety conferred by chastity, must be continually presented to the faithful, and especially to the young.”

7. Responding to the sorrowful appeal of the Holy Father, the Catholic Church, ever since the appearance of this terrible scourge, has always made her contribution both to preventing the transmission of the HIV virus and to looking after AIDS victims and their families at the medical/assistance, social, spiritual and pastoral levels. At the present time, 26.7% of the centres dedicated to treating HIV/AIDS in the world are Catholic centres. The projects and programmes involving education and prevention in relation to AIDS, and the care, treatment and pastoral accompanying of HIV/AIDS victims, that local Churches, religious institutes and lay associations promote with love, a sense of responsibility and a spirit of charity, are great in number. Side by side with this inestimable and praiseworthy endeavour, the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care has met the request of the Holy Father John Paul II who, when addressing the Bishops of the Episcopal Conferences of America, Australia and Europe, asked them to join with the pastors of Africa to address in an effective way the AIDS emergency.

8. In order to achieve great efficacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, I would like here to propose again certain policies for action that I pointed out in my speech to the XXVI Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS of the United Nations (New York, 2001):

— Support for overall global plans to combat HIV/AIDS.

— An increase in school education and the catechesis on the values of life and sex.

— The elimination of all forms of discrimination in relation to HIV/AIDS victims.

— The provision of suitable information on this pandemic.

— An invitation to governments to create conditions suitable to fighting this scourge.

— The fostering of a greater participation on the part of civil society in the fight against AIDS.

— Asking the industrialised countries to help the countries that need such help in this campaign against AIDS in a way that avoids all forms of colonialism.

— A reduction to the utmost of the price of the anti-viral drugs and medicines that are needed to treat H
IV/AIDS patients.

— An intensification of information campaigns in order to avoid the transmission of the virus from mothers to their unborn children.

— The paying of greater attention to the treatment of, and care for, seropositive babies and the protection of children who have been made orphans by AIDS.

— The paying of greater attention to the most vulnerable social groups.

9. I would like to conclude with the prayer — which is of especial significance on this occasion — that the Holy Father John Paul II dedicated on the occasion of the World Day of the Sick 2005 to all those who experience suffering and see in the face of the person who suffers the countenance of Christ. I invite you, my dear brothers and sisters, to make this prayer your own:

“Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Woman of pain and hope, be benevolent to each person who suffers and obtain for everyone fullness of life.

“Turn your maternal gaze especially to those who in Africa are in extreme need because afflicted by AIDS or by another fatal disease.

“Look at the mothers who weep for their children; look at the grandparents who are without sufficient resources to support their grandchildren who have become orphans. Clasp all of them to your Mother’s heart, Queen of Africa and the whole world, Most Holy Virgin, pray for us!”

+ Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragán,
President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

[Original text released by Vatican]

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