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Message of the 15th AMECEA Plenary Assembly
Mukono, Lugazi, June 1-11, 2005

CALLED TO BE A GOOD SAMARITAN
(Lk 10:30-37)

Responding to the Challenges of HIV/AIDS in AMECEA

1.0 Introduction
"To all God's beloved" in AMECEA Countries (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and affiliated members of Somalia and Djibouti) "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7-8).

We, the Catholic Bishops of the AMECEA Region, having seen, listened learned, reflected and prayed about the pastoral challenges of HIV and AIDS within our Region, now share our concerns and thoughts with you through this message. We invite the Clergy, the Religious, the lay Faithful, governments and non-governmental agencies in Africa and beyond, and all people of good will, to join hands and work side by side with us to stop the plague, which is devastating the peoples of our region. We call upon every Christian and every person of good will, to get involved in this struggle and to follow the invitation of Christ, to be a Good Samaritan to everyone who is in need, suffering or afflicted; and especially to those who are living with HIV/AIDS.


2.0 Appreciation
Having visited and interacted with the many institutions and communities dealing with HIV/AIDS in Uganda and in our respective countries, we appreciate the impressive efforts made by Episcopal Conferences, Dioceses, Parishes, Congregations and the Faithful in responding generously, often under difficult circumstances, to the challenges of HIV/AIDS.

With the words of Pope John Paul II, of venerable memory, we recall "with admiration, the many health-care workers, chaplains and volunteers who, like Good Samaritans, assist persons with AIDS and care for their relatives. In this regard the service of the thousands of Catholic health-care institutions that go to the help of people in Africa affected by every kind of illness, and especially AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, is invaluable" (Message for the 13th World Day of the Sick, 2005, No. 4)

We also appreciate the great efforts being made in HIV/AIDS programmes by governments and other institutions both in encouraging Abstinence and Fidelity as well as care for people living with HIV/AIDS, which are bearing encouraging results.
In a very special way we appreciate the many families and communities which have taken holistic care of their sick members and those still doing so with much love and sacrifice. We also thank the families, which are taking care of orphans, widows and widowers, in a manner that is edifying and truly Christian. We encourage all families and communities to emulate these good examples. "I was sick and you visited me&" (Mt 25: 36).
We applaud the efforts made by all medical personnel in the region in treating and caring for people living with HIV/AIDS; and all the counsellors who are giving hope to the sick, as well as medical researchers in both modern and traditional medicines, who are doing their best in the search for a cure.
We appreciate the involvement of many conscientious parents, teachers, and religious leaders who take to heart the instruction of children, youth and communities, in good moral behaviour, which is essential to the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.

3.0 Reality and Concerns
We are greatly alarmed by the magnitude of HIV/AIDS, its origin, causes, spread and consequences. We have become aware of the many factors that have aggravated the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Africa. These include; abject poverty, greed and corruption, ignorance and illiteracy, high levels of unemployment, war and the existence of refugees and internally displaced persons, inequality between men and women, immoral behaviour, disrespect of children's rights, and negative traditional cultural practices. All these factors have greatly increased the spread of HIV/AIDS, giving rise to prejudice, discrimination and stigma.

The consequences are far-reaching and visible in urban and rural areas as witnessed in untold suffering, worsening misery, numerous deaths, which result in countless orphans, widows and widowers. We call on all the People of God to undertake Christ's mission of protecting life to the full. "I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10).


4.0 Holistic Care for All
The Church, in her evangelising mission is called to the demands of the Gospel and to offer pastoral care to people living with HIV/AIDS. However we see a more holistic care as a great need in the context of immense suffering of our people. Holistic care designates complete and integrated response to the needs of a human person ranging from spiritual, physical, psychological, social and material. This care is to be given both to the sick in our communities and those in hospitals including members of the clergy and religious who are living with HIV/AIDS.


5.0 Solidarity with People Living With HIV/AIDS
We call upon all Christians and people of good will to respect the full dignity and equal rights of all people living with HIV/AIDS. We also call for affirmative action and empowering policies from governments in dealing with people living with HIV/AIDS. We call upon the Catholic Faithful to serve as shining examples in respecting the human dignity of, and offering special care to, people who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Just as Christ identified himself with the suffering, we Christians are now called upon to identify ourselves with the vulnerable and the suffering in the face of this great menace of HIV/AIDS. Loving and caring solidarity will take away all forms of stigmatisation (Lk 17:11-19).

Acknowledging the fact that a human person was created in the image and likeness of God, (Gn: 1:27) all persons carry with them a dignity that is not diminished by suffering or sickness. Therefore, all facets of justice; be they social, cultural, political, legal or economic, must also, without discrimination, apply to all people who are affected or infected with HIV.


6.0 Media
We recognise and acknowledge that public and private media houses are important partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The Church, government and private media houses should take deliberate steps to creatively use the media in this fight. We call upon Catholic radio stations and media houses to find innovative ways to educate and sensitise people about HIV/AIDS, to promote counselling and good family values, and to enhance the positive appreciation of human sexuality and chastity.


7.0 Foods and Fruits
God the Creator has given our AMECEA region abundant healthy natural foods and fruits. We call upon our Governments in the region to promote sustainable agriculture in order to develop, protect, and preserve indigenous seeds, the soil and the environment.

As a Region highly affected and infected with HIV/AIDS we reiterate our commitment to making the provision of healthy natural foods and fruits a priority for all our people especially those living with HIV/AIDS. We deplore the promotion of genetically modified foods and call upon our governments to put in place a policy that protects our natural foods and environment.


8.0 Couples with Special Difficulties
As shepherds of the Catholic Church in the AMECEA Region, we have listened attentively to the cries of our people living with HIV/AIDS and they have many questions. But let us be honest, there are no easy answers and not because we do not want to give them but they are simply not there. Let us not fall into the trap of feeling guilty or diminished when challenged by a worldly mentality that would like to solve all kinds of problems. When confronted with a situation like this let us turn to Christ and imitate Him in helping people find meaning for their suffering. The people themselves will then learn how to stand up and teach us all what "being healed" is all about. We pledge to redouble our efforts in marriage counselling. We call upon all pastoral agents to be close to the couples with special problems. "Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfil the law of Christ" (Gal: 6.2).


9.0 Integral Sexuality
Sexuality is a precious gift from God our Creator to every man and woman. We are therefore called to honour it, respect it, and use it according to God's commandment and the teaching of the Church.

We call upon parents, teachers and pastoral agents to do everything in their power and capacity to teach children, youth, and all those preparing for marriage, about their human sexuality so that they acquire sound values and virtues to uphold chastity and shun all pre-marital sex.
We call upon all pastoral agents to guide married couples in living out their marriage vocation faithfully.
We condemn all negative and unethical use of sexuality in our Region.

10.0 Advocacy
We are committed as Church leaders to undertake a strong campaign of advocacy for persons infected and affected with HIV/AIDS before our governments, all sectors of society and international community, so that policies of affirmative action are made and greater financial and holistic assistance and support are given.


11.0 Sustainability of HIV/AIDS Programmes
In view of the challenges of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially the needs of our people living with this terrible disease and those affected by its impact, we recognise and appreciate what the local communities have done by providing material resources and a Christian witness in accompanying the sick and caring for the widows, widowers and the orphans in their midst (Mt 25:31-46). We are convinced that this is the path to a long-term sustainable response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In so doing we become Good Samaritans (Lk: 10:30-37).

We are however aware of the need of the Church in the AMECEA region to access additional human and financial resources to support a comprehensive, coordinated, and effective response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We urge the Member Episcopal Conferences to intensify strategic collaboration with governments and international funding agencies. On its part, AMECEA will support these efforts through lobbying and advocacy.


12.0 Ecumenical and Interfaith Approach
We realise that to confront the many facets of HIV/AIDS we need to network with our ecumenical partners and the Interfaith Organisations and communities, which share similar objectives and programmes on HIV/AIDS. Our programmes should be shared so as to have greater impact in view of those living with HIV/AIDS. This networking will help us to avoid duplication of efforts and increase the mobilisation of the required human resources for a consolidated response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


13.0 New Policies in our Church
We commit ourselves to formulating new policies in our evangelisation so that the challenge of HIV/AIDS is focused-on and mainstreamed in all activities to enhance the holistic approach.

We therefore request all our AMECEA Institutions of higher learning, formation houses and seminaries, to treat the issue of HIV/AIDS thoroughly in their programmes of study. Some of them should be prepared as counsellors for the HIV/AIDS awareness programmes of our region.

We mandate all our departments and commissions at Episcopal Conference level to integrate the challenge of HIV/AIDS in their programmes and activities.
We commit ourselves to do the same at our Diocesan level and down to the Small Christian Communities.

We fully adopt the Plan of Action of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), for our AMECEA region, in responding to the HIV/AIDS challenge (Cf. SECAM, The Church in Africa in the face of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, 2003, #IV).

14.0 Globalisation
While we acknowledge that globalisation has positive elements such as facilitating easy and faster communication that can lead to greater solidarity between peoples and nations, we are greatly concerned about its negative effects.

We are particularly horrified by the ravages of unbridled capitalism, which has taken away and stifled local ownership of economic initiatives and leading to a dangerous gap between the rich few and the poor majority.

We are deeply alarmed by the promotion of pornography in all forms through all types of media, which corrupt children and the youth and contribute to the further spread of HIV/AIDS.

We further deplore the liberalisation and commercialisation of sex for all, which is contrary to human and religious values of sex and sexuality and contributes to the promotion of unchristian sexual tendencies and the destruction of the family institution as it has been known since time immemorial.

15.0 Debt Cancellation and Real Development Assistance
In order to promote global and human solidarity we appeal to the rich nations of the world to cancel immediately the debt of the poorest countries. This will free the much-needed resources for integral human development and will, in the long run, consolidate the fight against HIV/AIDS. We appreciate the efforts of the Tony Blair Commission for Africa and sincerely hope that its good intentions will be matched by good deeds.


16.0 Other Important Challenges
16.1 Peace in Southern Sudan
We are grateful to God that the twenty one years war in Sudan has finally come to an end through a comprehensive peace deal. We thank all those who have contributed to this especially Inter Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) the leaders and the people of Kenya, and the many other people who have played a significant role on this long peace process. The new Sudan is now challenged to translate the peace written on paper to practical peace, to reconciliation, and to the peace of mind and heart. We call upon the African Union, all leaders and peoples of Africa, and all countries of the world to generously contribute to the emergency needs, the rehabilitation and full-scale development of the Southern Sudan. We commit ourselves to an active role of advocacy and assistance in peace building in the new Sudan.

16.2 Conflict in Darfur
We are saddened by the ongoing conflict in Darfur (Sudan). During the more than two years of war, more than 300,000 people are dead. Many Sudanese people are now refugees in Chad and many more others are displaced from their homes. We deplore the suffering of the people in that region. We strongly advocate a peaceful resolution to this conflict through the active involvement of the African Union, the United Nations, and other international bodies. We also urge that the approach for a solution in Darfur be treated separately from the peace agreement on the Southern Sudan, and particularly this should not overshadow nor block the need for humanitarian assistance and development to Southern Sudan.

16.3 Northern Uganda
We once again call upon the government and people of Uganda to urgently resolve the armed conflict in Northern Uganda through peaceful means so that the suffering people in the internally displaced people's camps may return to their homes. We call upon the rebels Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to heed the cry of their people and accept dialogue with the government and its peace team to end this long lasting conflict.

16.4 Eritrea/Ethiopia
We call upon the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia to urgently resolve the border conflict peacefully. We strongly appeal to the international community to do whatever is possible to resolve the conflict so that the two countries can resume good neighbourly cross-border relations.


17.0 Africa Shall Survive!
As AMECEA Bishops we are very optimistic that Africa shall survive. We share our optimism with all our fellow citizens in AMECEA Region that Africa shall survive. We shall live and future generations shall also live. The HIV/AIDS pandemic shall be defeated. This strong optimism comes from our Christian Faith (cf. Rm 8:35). God loves Africa and its people. The people of Africa have rich inner energies and noble values, courage and determination to defeat the pandemic.

We call upon all peoples of Africa to undertake a courageous struggle against HIV/AIDS.
We call upon all leaders and peoples of Africa and leaders and peoples of other continents to respect Africa and to completely desist from giving Africa a negative image through the media. Africa does not need pity but genuine love and solidarity. Christ is our Life, our Hope and Saviour.
We therefore reject and condemn any negative predictions about the future of Africa and any marginalization of Africa as a continent.

18.0 Conclusion
As we conclude our 15th AMECEA Plenary, we offer our love and prayers to all the people in our region who are living with HIV/AIDS and those affected by it. We promise to stand by you, and encourage all our pastoral agents to serve and care for you in a holistic manner. As full members of our Church and society, we invite you to fully participate in the life of the Church, and approach us, and continue to speak out, so that we can continue to administer to you according to the mission we have received from Christ the Chief and Good Shepherd, enlightened and united to the redemptive value of Christ's suffering. May the God of Love protect you and give you more faith and hope to live positively and respond lovingly to His call.

Let the heroic example of the Uganda Martyrs be a guide to our sexual moral behaviour in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Signed:

+ Paul Bakyenga
Archbishop of Mbarara - Uganda

Chairman - AMECEA

Given at the Catholic Cathedral of Lugazi Diocese, Lugazi - Uganda, on 11th June 2005, Feast of St Barnabas.


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Issue No. 438 c, Friday, June 17, 2005