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Indian Catholic bishops

01 December 2003

Pastoral letter from Indian bishops for World AIDS Day 2003
The challenge to be his light today 

1 December 2003 

My dear sisters and brothers in Jesus,  

1. St. Mathew, the evangelist quotes the Prophet Isaiah to introduce the mission and message of Jesus, in these words: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned" (Mt. 5:16). As the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference India (CBCI) Commission for Healthcare, I would like to reflect with you on this theme in the context of the devastating scourge of HIV/AIDS that is affecting many of our sisters and brothers in our beloved nation. This message is the fruit of the suggestions by the Bishops in-charge of Health Commissions in the 12 Regional Bishops' Councils and the Heads of National Health and Developmental Organisations, who came together for a National Consultation on `the Response of the Church on HIV/AIDS', held on August 8-9, 2003 at St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences, Bangalore. As you perhaps know, each year, December 1 is observed globally as "the World AIDS Day". Such a reflection is more appropriate since we begin the sacred season of Advent, and prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the true Light, that `dispels despair and darkness', and `enlightens everyone in this world' (Cf. Jn 1: 5,9). 

2. The first case of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was detected in India in 1987. In the last 15 years, the epidemic has spread rapidly all over the country. Today India is estimated to have about 4.5 million HIV positive people. If this pandemic continues at its present pace, it is going to have devastating effects on the entire fabric of our society. It is said that if the spread of HIV/AIDS is not checked and the problem reversed, it is likely to wipe out decades of development made in our country. It is also projected that in terms of the total number of the HIV infected, the Indian subcontinent will overtake the other nations, and may become the ‘AIDS capital of the world'. It is going to pose a formidable challenge to healthcare resources, institutions, families and life expectancy. We can only control the disease, but, as on now, there is no cure. 

3. The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II has affirmed that those suffering from HIV/AIDS must be provided with full care and shown full respect, given every possible moral and spiritual assistance, and indeed treated in a way worthy of Christ himself. The entire Church needs to join hands to make efforts for HIV prevention and control. Pope John Paul II states that "the battle against AIDS ought to be everyone's battle." (Ecclesia in Africa, n.70). With existing exigencies of our country such as poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, injustice and discrimination, it becomes absolutely necessary for the Church to get involved in the care and support of the infected and awareness building programmes for prevention. Countries like Australia, Great Briton and Uganda tell the success stories of reduction in the number of new HIV infection, due to the active intervention of the Church and other faith-based organizations with the Governments. 

4. The Catholic Church has been a major provider of competent and compassionate care to people living with HIV infection around the globe. The Catholic Church provides approximately 25% of the total care given to those infected with HIV/AIDS, which makes the Church the major partner of Nations in the fight against this disease.  

In India, among the total 4743 Catholic healthcare institutions, a good majority indeed have one way or the other have some programme towards prevention, care for the persons living with HIV, and support for the affected. The Church runs 39 care and support centers specifically for those infected with HIV and AIDS in different parts of the country.  

Through the efforts of the Commission for Healthcare, the CBCI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Indira Gandhi National Open University and a programme of Study on `Family Life Education in the context of HIV' was launched and 2200 students have enrolled themselves for this course in the last academic year. We know that education, awareness building and training for the prevention of HIV/AIDS play a major role. Hope many more, especially those who are in the education and healthcare field will join the course and profit by it.  

Developmental organizations like Caritas India, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and so on have various programmes to control the spread of the disease in our country. St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences, Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), Catholic Nurses Guild of India (CNGI), and some Religious Congregations maintain various programmes and projects responding to HIV/AIDS.  

In the attempts against the spread of HIV/AIDS, though the Church is involved to a great extent, it still has a major mission to fulfill. Considering the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the entire Christian community needs to be alive, active and involved. We need to reflect together the ways and means to be the light of the Divine Saviour, and that we never "walk in darkness" - the darkness of ignorance and fear. We should take it up as a challenge to remain united as one family, where no one is discriminated against, rather, everyone is truly accepted.  

5. Let us change the darkness of ignorance and misconception into the bright world of prevention and positive action: HIV infection, as per the current knowledge, is transmitted mainly in three ways - through sexual contacts with a person infected and thus through body fluids; from a mother infected with HIV to her baby; and, through blood transfusions. We need to build awareness among the people on the nature of the disease and the ways of its transmission. Prevention involves choosing responsible life styles, that are based on true human and moral values and adhering to them in one's life. This implies fidelity and faithfulness in one's marriage, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual chastity, and responsibility to one's life and commitment.  

6. There are many agencies that campaign for prevention of HIV/AIDS by advocating "safe sex" or "safer sex" through condom use. Unfortunately it tends to offer a false sense of security. In this context, we need to remember that the sexual behaviour basing on the values of the Gospel only will offer the best protection. 

7. Proper awareness on HIV/AIDS should help us to overcome our prejudices and fears. Those who contract HIV/AIDS, whether by accident or by consequences of their own actions, carry with them a heavy burden of social stigma, ostracism and condemnation. The infected and affected persons deserve all the compassion and care offered by Jesus. Those who feel morally superior to those living with HIV/AIDS may remember that self-righteousness is condemned more than any other sin by Jesus in the pages of the Gospel. Let us join with the World Health Organization and UNAIDS in the campaign, "Live and let live", to eliminate stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS. I appeal to the parish communities, educational and healthcare institutions to be actively involved in awareness programmes, campaigns, life-skill education, study-seminars and care and support.  

8. Let us help those people living with HIV to come out of the shadow of despair, gloom and guilt and enter into a joyful hope and acceptance. Those among us who are living with HIV/AIDS must not feel that they are alone and abandoned. We, who are their sisters and brothers, must walk in solidarity with them on their journey. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are really responsible for all." As the body of Christ, the Church needs to take care of those infected and help them to ‘live positively' with HIV/AIDS. The infected can continue to celebrate life and live with hope, having judicious use of medicine, eating a balanced diet, dedicating sufficient time for prayer and meditation, spending time with family and friends while contributing whatever way they can for the benefit of the family and society. 

9. One of the serious concerns of the Church is to make sure that the infected have access to essential drugs at an affordable price. In this connection, we appreciate the Government of India for its efforts in providing free drugs for the opportunistic infection. It is indeed a laudable plan resolution that WHO is launching a programme to give the antiretroviral (ARV) medicines to a large group of persons living with HIV. We appeal to our institutions to make use of these available schemes so that the infected may receive its benefit. On behalf of our sisters and brothers living with HIV, I appeal to the Pharmaceutical Companies in India, who are producing a large share of the medicine for global supply, that not profit, but humanitarian considerations should be their motive and primary concern. 

10. We need to acknowledge that people living with HIV/AIDS continue to contribute to their family and society. They are to be reassured of the value of their lives, their worth in the larger society and the positive contribution they can make to further enrich it. Persons living with HIV/AIDS are to be part of the planning and decision making process of the interventions. 

Parish communities, especially through the basic ecclesial communities, should reach out to those families of HIV patients. We should create a network of people prepared to assist such families in care, counselling and support. Women are at a higher risk of getting infected due to the prevailing gender inequalities. Women Groups in communities and parishes have an important role to play in this regard. 

11. All the Catholic healthcare institutions, as we are serving the Lord in the abandoned and afflicted, will admit and care for the people living with HIV/AIDS. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to say, `a person affected by HIV/AIDS is Jesus among us. How can we say no to Him!' Every baptised is invited to show compassion and love to those already infected. The family members of the person infected play a major role in the home-based care, which is palliative in nature. Families and caregivers at home need to be trained in day-to-day care of the patient. We need to know how to fight this disease, while taking care not to discriminate and stigmatize the infected. 

12. As we conclude the year of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Mother of Hope and Strength, I entrust to her maternal care and intercession all those who are living with HIV/AIDS. May she also intercede for all of us so that the Babe of Bethlehem, may remove all the shadows of despair, discrimination and fear and bring to our hearts the true light of hope and loving acceptance of everyone, especially those who are sick and suffering. 

Yours in Jesus,

Msgr. Bernard Moras
Bishop of Belgaum and Chairman, Catholic Bishops Conference India (CBCI) Commission for Health
CBCI Centre, New Delhi
October 18, 2003
Feast of St. Luke

Pastoral letter from Indian bishops for World AIDS Day 2003
The challenge to be his light today 

1 December 2003 

My dear sisters and brothers in Jesus,  

1. St. Mathew, the evangelist quotes the Prophet Isaiah to introduce the mission and message of Jesus, in these words: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned" (Mt. 5:16). As the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference India (CBCI) Commission for Healthcare, I would like to reflect with you on this theme in the context of the devastating scourge of HIV/AIDS that is affecting many of our sisters and brothers in our beloved nation. This message is the fruit of the suggestions by the Bishops in-charge of Health Commissions in the 12 Regional Bishops' Councils and the Heads of National Health and Developmental Organisations, who came together for a National Consultation on `the Response of the Church on HIV/AIDS', held on August 8-9, 2003 at St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences, Bangalore. As you perhaps know, each year, December 1 is observed globally as "the World AIDS Day". Such a reflection is more appropriate since we begin the sacred season of Advent, and prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the true Light, that `dispels despair and darkness', and `enlightens everyone in this world' (Cf. Jn 1: 5,9). 

2. The first case of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was detected in India in 1987. In the last 15 years, the epidemic has spread rapidly all over the country. Today India is estimated to have about 4.5 million HIV positive people. If this pandemic continues at its present pace, it is going to have devastating effects on the entire fabric of our society. It is said that if the spread of HIV/AIDS is not checked and the problem reversed, it is likely to wipe out decades of development made in our country. It is also projected that in terms of the total number of the HIV infected, the Indian subcontinent will overtake the other nations, and may become the ‘AIDS capital of the world'. It is going to pose a formidable challenge to healthcare resources, institutions, families and life expectancy. We can only control the disease, but, as on now, there is no cure. 

3. The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II has affirmed that those suffering from HIV/AIDS must be provided with full care and shown full respect, given every possible moral and spiritual assistance, and indeed treated in a way worthy of Christ himself. The entire Church needs to join hands to make efforts for HIV prevention and control. Pope John Paul II states that "the battle against AIDS ought to be everyone's battle." (Ecclesia in Africa, n.70). With existing exigencies of our country such as poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, injustice and discrimination, it becomes absolutely necessary for the Church to get involved in the care and support of the infected and awareness building programmes for prevention. Countries like Australia, Great Briton and Uganda tell the success stories of reduction in the number of new HIV infection, due to the active intervention of the Church and other faith-based organizations with the Governments. 

4. The Catholic Church has been a major provider of competent and compassionate care to people living with HIV infection around the globe. The Catholic Church provides approximately 25% of the total care given to those infected with HIV/AIDS, which makes the Church the major partner of Nations in the fight against this disease.  

In India, among the total 4743 Catholic healthcare institutions, a good majority indeed have one way or the other have some programme towards prevention, care for the persons living with HIV, and support for the affected. The Church runs 39 care and support centers specifically for those infected with HIV and AIDS in different parts of the country.  

Through the efforts of the Commission for Healthcare, the CBCI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Indira Gandhi National Open University and a programme of Study on `Family Life Education in the context of HIV' was launched and 2200 students have enrolled themselves for this course in the last academic year. We know that education, awareness building and training for the prevention of HIV/AIDS play a major role. Hope many more, especially those who are in the education and healthcare field will join the course and profit by it.  

Developmental organizations like Caritas India, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and so on have various programmes to control the spread of the disease in our country. St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences, Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), Catholic Nurses Guild of India (CNGI), and some Religious Congregations maintain various programmes and projects responding to HIV/AIDS.  

In the attempts against the spread of HIV/AIDS, though the Church is involved to a great extent, it still has a major mission to fulfill. Considering the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the entire Christian community needs to be alive, active and involved. We need to reflect together the ways and means to be the light of the Divine Saviour, and that we never "walk in darkness" - the darkness of ignorance and fear. We should take it up as a challenge to remain united as one family, where no one is discriminated against, rather, everyone is truly accepted.  

5. Let us change the darkness of ignorance and misconception into the bright world of prevention and positive action: HIV infection, as per the current knowledge, is transmitted mainly in three ways - through sexual contacts with a person infected and thus through body fluids; from a mother infected with HIV to her baby; and, through blood transfusions. We need to build awareness among the people on the nature of the disease and the ways of its transmission. Prevention involves choosing responsible life styles, that are based on true human and moral values and adhering to them in one's life. This implies fidelity and faithfulness in one's marriage, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual chastity, and responsibility to one's life and commitment.  

6. There are many agencies that campaign for prevention of HIV/AIDS by advocating "safe sex" or "safer sex" through condom use. Unfortunately it tends to offer a false sense of security. In this context, we need to remember that the sexual behaviour basing on the values of the Gospel only will offer the best protection. 

7. Proper awareness on HIV/AIDS should help us to overcome our prejudices and fears. Those who contract HIV/AIDS, whether by accident or by consequences of their own actions, carry with them a heavy burden of social stigma, ostracism and condemnation. The infected and affected persons deserve all the compassion and care offered by Jesus. Those who feel morally superior to those living with HIV/AIDS may remember that self-righteousness is condemned more than any other sin by Jesus in the pages of the Gospel. Let us join with the World Health Organization and UNAIDS in the campaign, "Live and let live", to eliminate stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS. I appeal to the parish communities, educational and healthcare institutions to be actively involved in awareness programmes, campaigns, life-skill education, study-seminars and care and support.  

8. Let us help those people living with HIV to come out of the shadow of despair, gloom and guilt and enter into a joyful hope and acceptance. Those among us who are living with HIV/AIDS must not feel that they are alone and abandoned. We, who are their sisters and brothers, must walk in solidarity with them on their journey. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are really responsible for all." As the body of Christ, the Church needs to take care of those infected and help them to ‘live positively' with HIV/AIDS. The infected can continue to celebrate life and live with hope, having judicious use of medicine, eating a balanced diet, dedicating sufficient time for prayer and meditation, spending time with family and friends while contributing whatever way they can for the benefit of the family and society. 

9. One of the serious concerns of the Church is to make sure that the infected have access to essential drugs at an affordable price. In this connection, we appreciate the Government of India for its efforts in providing free drugs for the opportunistic infection. It is indeed a laudable plan resolution that WHO is launching a programme to give the antiretroviral (ARV) medicines to a large group of persons living with HIV. We appeal to our institutions to make use of these available schemes so that the infected may receive its benefit. On behalf of our sisters and brothers living with HIV, I appeal to the Pharmaceutical Companies in India, who are producing a large share of the medicine for global supply, that not profit, but humanitarian considerations should be their motive and primary concern. 

10. We need to acknowledge that people living with HIV/AIDS continue to contribute to their family and society. They are to be reassured of the value of their lives, their worth in the larger society and the positive contribution they can make to further enrich it. Persons living with HIV/AIDS are to be part of the planning and decision making process of the interventions. 

Parish communities, especially through the basic ecclesial communities, should reach out to those families of HIV patients. We should create a network of people prepared to assist such families in care, counselling and support. Women are at a higher risk of getting infected due to the prevailing gender inequalities. Women Groups in communities and parishes have an important role to play in this regard. 

11. All the Catholic healthcare institutions, as we are serving the Lord in the abandoned and afflicted, will admit and care for the people living with HIV/AIDS. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to say, `a person affected by HIV/AIDS is Jesus among us. How can we say no to Him!' Every baptised is invited to show compassion and love to those already infected. The family members of the person infected play a major role in the home-based care, which is palliative in nature. Families and caregivers at home need to be trained in day-to-day care of the patient. We need to know how to fight this disease, while taking care not to discriminate and stigmatize the infected. 

12. As we conclude the year of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Mother of Hope and Strength, I entrust to her maternal care and intercession all those who are living with HIV/AIDS. May she also intercede for all of us so that the Babe of Bethlehem, may remove all the shadows of despair, discrimination and fear and bring to our hearts the true light of hope and loving acceptance of everyone, especially those who are sick and suffering. 

Yours in Jesus,

Msgr. Bernard Moras
Bishop of Belgaum and Chairman, Catholic Bishops Conference India (CBCI) Commission for Health
CBCI Centre, New Delhi
October 18, 2003
Feast of St. Luke