On the first day of December, people around the world pause to remember World AIDS Day. Christians remember all who live with HIV and AIDS, and all who have died, at the same time we begin the season of Advent. We search for a healer and a hope-giver as we prepare for the coming of the Redeemer. One of the traditional prophetic readings for the season says:
While gentle silence enveloped all things,
and night in its swift course was now half gone,
[God's] all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the land that was doomed. [Wisdom 18:14-15, NRSV]
The magnificent contrasts of this ancient vision - silence pierced by the Word, doom cast out by new life - seem a fitting frame for reflecting on the challenges and opportunities confronting us on World AIDS Day 2010.
The world lives in painful silence and gathering doom. More than 30 million people around the world are living with HIV, and at least 2.5 million persons will be infected in the coming year. Developing countries experience HIV and AIDS as major links in the chain of poverty and instability binding so much of God's creation. In the United States HIV rates are also rising among the poor. An increased need for American funding of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment has been met with silence and retreat, as other pressing challenges vie for national and global attention.
And yet silence and doom do not have the last word. The UNAIDS report released last week notes that the rate of new HIV infections has either stabilized or been reduced significantly in 56 nations. New infections have fallen 20% in the past decade, and AIDS deaths have fallen 20% in the past five years. The director of UNAIDS urges the world to break "the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic with bold actions and smart choices." The Centers for Disease Control identify HIV/AIDS as one of six diseases which can be overcome. Research results released last week show promising results in clinical trials of a new prophylactic drug, designed to prevent HIV infection in at-risk communities. This success comes in the wake of recently publicized advances in identifying HIV 'controller genes,' which may lead to advances in vaccines or treatment.
This contrast confronts us on World AIDS Day: great progress and even greater hope despite public discourse and political leadership that rarely prioritizes an end to this deadly and stigmatizing disease. What can Christians do to ensure the victory of hope and new life in the face of silence and death?
The first priority: continue to advocate forcefully for government investment in the fight against AIDS both here and abroad. The U.S. government's has, in the past two years, decreased our nation's promised investment in HIV/AIDS abroad. This reduction had included both funding for particular countries, and our investment in the multinational Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote compellingly of President Obama's unfulfilled commitments in a New York Times op-ed this past summer. As the President prepares his budget for the coming fiscal year, I urge Episcopalians to challenge him and the new Congress to keep America's promises to the world. Joining the Episcopal Public Policy Network will connect your voice to those of other Episcopalians working in this and other areas of social justice.
The second priority: Episcopalians must continue to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS within our own communities. This Church still has AIDS, and urgent challenges remain. Stigma continues to be a major issue in the United States and around the world. Encouraging routine testing is essential, particularly among adults over age 50. I commend to all Episcopalians the work of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, which has done much to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS and avenues of healing within our own communities.
Finally, I urge your prayers. As we prepare to mark the thirtieth year of the world's awareness of HIV and AIDS in 2011, pray for all who have died from this terrible disease. Pray for those living now with HIV and AIDS. And pray for a future without AIDS.
These past weeks have brought us new signs that such a future is indeed possible. Pray that we will use our collective resources, imagination, and will to make a world without AIDS a reality.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate