30 years ago Cardinal Mahony saw the pandemic of HIV/AIDS hitting our community and the global world. He began the Office of Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry. The pandemic was to bring out the best of a Catholic Community. It brought out the best of the local Gay and Lesbian community. At that time, HIV/AIDS was a six month death sentence. People walked with dozens or a hundred people through the pain and many pills into our faith of Resurrection. There was discrimination and hatred. It was a time where ignorance led people and churches to not shine. The AIDS Ministry brought education, pastoral support and liturgy tools for funerals.
As Jesus said today: “None of those who cry out, “Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven. Anyone who hears my words and put them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on rock.” The ministry allowed us locally and with the interfaith Church efforts to continue the history of us living the Word of God and creating health care system for the poor and the marginalized. The years my ministry was about going into homes and hospitals to visit, pray and anoint dying persons who often no one in family would touch our of fear and ignorance. I was touched then by the gay and lesbian community who stepped up and cared for those gay and straight persons who were often abandoned out of that ignorance. We were the ministry that “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Family members whose brothers or uncles had died reached out to assist the dying and support the living. We formed support groups and tried to live out the Love of God and His healing hands and hearts.
Today most in the USA are able to get access to medicines that allow them to live with this chronic illness. The Global world continues to see unborn, children, women and men dying by the millions, but at a slower rate than in those early years. Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Charities remain a leading service in the global world–providing medical and social and spiritual care to 1 in 4 persons living with HIV and those dying of AIDS. Today we as local church join in the internal effort with the them of Leadership, commitment and impact. Our 30 years of commitment remain because of the ongoing support of Archbishop Gomez and the Archdiocese.
We are one of the only Ministries that continue in the USA and so we celebrate the vision, those who have serviced, those who have died and those who now live full lives with this pandemic. We have this ministry that is built on the rock of Jesus and his healing power. It is built on the stories of those who have come before us and now live in Resurrection along with those who live now fully alive and appreciative of the medical advancements and spiritual healing of our Catholic and the interfaith community.
Trust in the Lord Forever! For the Lord is an eternal rock! The ministry continues in that trust and faith.
We pause to remember the millions who have died. We pause in commitment to those millions still living. We pause in solidarity with those who spend their lives working for a cure and service the least among us. This Advent season calls us to see Christ–Emanuel among us all. Emanuel among those living with HIV/AIDS.
Rev Chris Ponnet, MA, MDiv, BCC
Pastor, St Camillus Center for Spiritual Care