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Issued jointly with the Conference of European Churches (CEC)

The following communiqué has been released by an ecumenical consultation on HIV/AIDS in Central and Eastern Europe:

From 27 - 29 November, just before the commemoration of the World AIDS day (1 December 2002), representatives of 14 churches and church organizations from 10 countries in Western, Central and Eastern Europe came together in Minsk, Belarus, for a consultation on the "Healing Ministry" of the churches. The consultation was organized by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. The major topic was the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in Central and Eastern Europe and the role churches can play in combating this disease. Different forms of prevention, education and healing were discussed.

Representatives of UNAIDS (United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS) explained that the spread of the disease in Eastern and Central Europe is by far the highest in the world, and that it will become an epidemic if all efforts are not taken to prevent it. The epidemic has its roots in the enormous increase in poverty during the past 10 years of economic and political transformation. Lack of prospects for the future brings many people to alcoholism and other desperate behaviour. Youth are left unattended and many youngsters are vulnerable to risky experiments like the use of injected drugs and unprotected sex; two factors which lead to the rapid increase of the infection.

Many churches in Europe have expressed their concern and their commitment to combat this worsening situation. In a meeting with representatives of UNAIDS in March 2002, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church declared his commitment to co-operation within the UN-framework to combat HIV/AIDS. He said that the church will be involved in the development of spiritual and social assistance to the victims of HIV/AIDS and their families. In April 2002, leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church blessed the Church-Related Aids Network, formed by four ecumenically-oriented organizations from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, who were present at this consultation.

Testimony was given by an ex-prisoner with HIV infection, who was received by the Ecumenical Round Table in Belarus when released from prison. The church was the first contact that had shown respect without stigmatization and has assisted him in beginning his new life. Similar testimonies were obtained during the field visits to several projects in Minsk.

Church and inter-church organizations are involved in all types of anti-AIDS projects, often in co-ordination with other organizations. Participants underlined that the church is specifically equipped to provide care and counseling to the victims, to educate people and to work on prevention. The strength of the church is that it can reach many people, is mostly seen as reliable, and has excellent networks of volunteers. Next to social, psychological and medical help, spiritual assistance is valued by many infected and affected people and care providers. A holistic approach to healing can return dignity and hope to the victims. Theological reflection is needed on essential questions around sin and illness, life and death, fatalism and self-responsibility, and charity and neglect.

Participating organizations expressed their commitment to work together and to support each other in this fight against inhumanity. They plan to present their progress to the 12th Assembly of the Conference of European Churches, which will be held from 25 June - 2 July 2003 in Trondheim, Norway, under the theme of "Jesus Christ heals and reconciles: our witness in Europe".

For further information, please contact:

WCC Media Relations Office, tel: +41 (0)22 791 64 21 or

CEC Office of Communications tel: +41 22 791.6485 or .6325