Wesleyan, Catholic and Anglican churches distributed red ribbons and marked World AIDS Day during Mass over the weekend. In its 2012-2013 pastoral plan, Wesleyan Holiness Church marked December 1 in observance of World AIDS Day.
Young and old members of the congregation proudly displayed their red ribbons during Mass in The Bottom and showed their care and compassion towards everyone affected by the chronic infectious disease. Mass began with lively gospel songs and a poem on love, joy, peace and, ultimately, hope.
Before the Bible readings, Pastor Vernon Liburd prayed for those experiencing solitude in facing challenges in their lives and those who experienced the untimely loss of loved ones. The readings focused on spiritual teachings on abstinence, the “depravity of fornication” and the “sanctity” of monogamous relationships recognised by the community through marriage. In his homily, Liburd marked the history and progression of the HIV epidemic in the Caribbean, with the first documented case reported in Jamaica in 1982, with cases spreading in homosexual and bisexual men in Trinidad and Tobago.
By 1985, both men and women were infected, with heterosexual contacts soon becoming the leading cause of infections. He stressed that HIV now affects more women than men. Outside Africa, the Caribbean is the only place in the world where a higher number of girls and women are infected than men. Liburd noted that the only subregion in the world with a similar high-infection rate as the Caribbean is sub-Saharan Africa. Local vulnerabilities, he said, were attitudes towards multiple sexual partners, poverty levels, gender-based discrimination and prostitution. He asked how to rationalise and reconcile this with the teachings of the Bible, with only abstinence offering 100 per cent protection.
He asked if the church should discriminate against HIV patients and gave the answer himself, “A resounding ‘no,’ because persons who are sick need our comfort, our encouragement, our love.” His strongly-worded anti-discrimination message continued with a story about a married pastor who discovered he was HIV positive, who came out to his community organising informational seminars. The story culminated with the pastor receiving the compassionate embrace of all his parishioners.
When asked if the church has a role in helping people living with the chronic disease, he unwaveringly called his parishioners to extend compassion and help. He called on the Christian teaching of reaching out precisely towards those “ostracised” by society. This, he said, should not detract from the church’s role in promoting abstinence and safe-sex practices. He spoke of the many young people “wracking” their lives and prospects with multiple partners. He also mentioned the risks to which medical personnel and emergency first responders expose themselves if, in the spur of the moment, they forget to take universal precaution measures.
When asked if the church should play an active role in sensitising people about HIV, Pastor Liburd said: “The world does not end at the airport or the harbour. The only way to protect the community is information and the church must serve as an agent in informing everyone and preparing them against all sexually transmitted diseases.” He called out not to turn a blind eye to abusive relationships or deprived people preying on the young. “All of us who have children, daughters, sisters and nieces, we need to speak out.”
He decried sexual immorality and spoke of his conversation with an unremorseful “predator” whom he confronted about what he would do if infected. The story warned about those that may consciously infect others, having no qualms about condom distribution. Pastor Liburd distributed key chains with condoms to all parishioners, after which Mass ended with a moment of silence for all those lost to AIDS, and a touching prayer for those struggling with its impact. Father Danilo Pastor also called on the community to pray for those affected by HIV/AIDS in the spirit of family unity and support, refusing discrimination of those affected.