VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The 4.2 million HIV-positive people in South African pose challenges to Christians in terms of truths of the faith relating to sickness, healing, death and resurrection, says an eminent theologian.
During a worldwide videoconference organized last Thursday by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Stuart C. Bate addressed this issue in a paper entitled “Living with Death in a World of AIDS.”
Father Bate, a South African, brought to bear the pastoral experience of the Church in the country with the most AIDS patients in the world.
An adviser to episcopal conferences on the inculturation of the Christian mission of healing in Africa, he said that with AIDS patients “death comes long before the final moment.”
“As soon as people are diagnosed HIV-positive, it is as though death enters into their lives,” Father Bate explained. “And with death comes sin, because AIDS infection is perceived to result from sinful sexual encounter.”
Hence, the speaker asked the theologians listening to the videoconference: “Jesus came to conquer sin and death. What does he call us to do for these victims?”
First of all, it is necessary to raise “the dead by conquering false perceptions,” the priest said.
“In Western scientism, HIV/AIDS is incurable,” he said. “This means that becoming HIV-positive is a death sentence. This is traumatic for all people, but particularly so for young people.
“Acceptance of the incurability of HIV/AIDS creates the feeling of being cheated out of life. This is a recipe for anger, hopelessness, rage and irresponsibility — ´what kind of God of love can do this to me?´”
To say that “AIDS is incurable” can be confusing, the priest contended.
Today´s medicine can the virus and lengthen patients´ lives, so “Christian action for justice and peace is the struggle to provide cheaper medicines for victims of HIV,” he said.
AIDS is also “incurable” when the community sees the patient as someone sentenced to death, Father Bate said.
“Christian healing occurs when communities dismantle this unhelpful cultural attitude,” the theologian said.
If this step is taken, he added, “we follow Jesus who focused on the human rather than the clinical. His healing was a healing that brought life and rescued people from sin and despondency to well-being and hope.”
The sick can be healed “by changing condemning attitudes,” Father Bate explained. “When Christians identify themselves as the ones who condemn other people because of perceived sinful behavior and participation in evil, they do something that is itself deeply un-Christian.”
“That is why Jesus encourages us not to judge others, and not to throw the first stone since all of us are sinners,” the speaker emphasized. “The AIDS pandemic is … a crisis that needs good news on all fronts. Many will eventually die, but in life we should continually seek ways to raise the dead, heal the sick, and preach good news.”