Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Loving 'the other' in the shadow of HIV/AIDS

Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan - Published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How do I as a father, a husband, a Christian, a human being engage with the issue of HIV/AIDS?

This was the question with which I ended this column last week.

This week I would like to continue this reflection, especially in the light of the launch, earlier this week, of the Report of the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific, "Turning the Tide: an OPEN strategy for a response to AIDS in the Pacific.

The OPEN strategy recommended in the report calls for ownership, partnerships, empowering and enabling and networking so that there is an inclusive response to HIV/AIDS.

This means that all levels of the society need to take ownership of the HIV epidemic.

One of the strongest pleas made by the President of Fiji, the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa (chair of the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific), United Nations representatives, HIV positive people and a host of others actively working to stop the spread of HIV was for churches and other faith-based organisations to fully commit and become involved in the HIV/AIDS issue.

The Nadi Declaration on HIV/ AIDS by Pacific Churches in 2004 was not only a call to face the facts on HIV in the Pacific but a call to repentance for the way Christians have dealt with the issue, especially in our response to people living with HIV/AIDS.

For far too long we who call ourselves Christian have been blind to the suffering of other members of the body of Christ.

We are deaf to their cries.

We forget that, "if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it," (1 Corinthians 12:26).

The scales of prejudice, ignorance and fear prevent us from recognising God's presence in every person.

Our attitudes toward sexuality prevent us from looking at HIV/AIDS as an issue of life and death and caring and being concerned with the needs of our biblical neighbours - the other, the stranger.

Our love for each other has become so conditional that many of us have lost the ability to have compassion for those who are different from us.

The OPEN Strategy highlights the need to link up so that we can work together on this issue rather than just "doing our own thing" and working in isolation.

Our actions must not just be one-off or ad hoc but need to be consistent and build on the work or add support to the work of others.

It also calls for our support for people who are either involved in combating this epidemic or who are its casualties must be more than lip service or pity.

Encouragement, caring for the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS, enabling them to continue to have a meaningful life empowers them to not only hold on to life and hope but to be symbols of hope and life for others.

In the Gospel of Matthew (25:34-40), the Christ says in a parable,

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'.

As a traditional force of positive influence in the community, the churches of the Pacific need to be agents of God's transforming grace by helping our people find the courage to face the truth about HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in the Pacific, speaking out against discrimination and stigmatisation of people at most risk to HIV and STIs, people living with HIV and by talking about these issues and others such as violence against women and children with words that are characterised by respect, love, forgiveness and intimacy.

Churches and other faith-based organisations need to actively educate their communities of faith- theologically and pastorally on HIV and STIs, support and counsel them for testing and advocate holistic care and treatment for those living with HIV.

All human beings are called, by whatever spiritual path they follow, to transform fear into love.

This transformation is key to transforming the darkness of despair associated with HIV/AIDS into the light of hope.

For more on the Nadi Declaration on HIV/AIDS by Pacific Churches visit -

May the rest of your week be blessed with God's transforming grace.

* Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

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