by Fr. Abraham Hailu
Living and working with people infected with HIV/AIDS and with their families in the context of severe poverty and war, some of us Comboni Missionaries, see coming up a completely new aspect of our Comboni Charism- for the poorest and most abandoned.
The people living with HIV/AIDS are some of those new poorest and most discriminated against. In the document of Ratio Missionis, in preparation to the next General Chapter, it is explained how the passionate love for the poor remains a strong part of our spirituality and charism. It says “we must take up again the basic aspects of our Comboni spirituality and identity: The Pierced Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd, the Mission, Comboni, the Cross and the passionate love for the poorest and most abandoned and make common cause with them” (Ratio Missionis Second Stage no. 71.)
Yes in our next General Chapter, we really hope and request that the basic aspects of our Comboni spirituality with its challenges of today may be taken up again. We have a moral obligation to analyze and clearly identify the poorest and the marginalized of today: In the context of Africa certainly people living with HIV/AIDS make one of the biggest groups.
The countries where we Comboni Missionaries are working are no exception. Some of the countries are actually the worst in the continent. A very limited number of the missionaries are involved in the campaign against the pandemic. The few who are involved are working only on the basis of either voluntary or just following the local church and government programs.
According to UNAIDS and WHO (World Health Organization) statistics, at the end of 2007, Africa is the most affected continent. Out of 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, more than 22 million live in Sub- Saharan Africa. In the same continent, there are 11.6 million AIDS’ orphans (See statistics in Attachment).
In Africa, in spite of the above devastating presence of the pandemic, according to the limited research we have carried out we realize that there is no Comboni province who is proactively involved with a concrete and unified policy. Even less is done on the level of the general administration to combat the pandemic which is driving the poorest continually into destitution with little hope of recovery.
The forthcoming General Chapter is a Kairos time. In St. Comboni’s language the Hour of Africa will be revisited. It is time we the Comboni Missionaries came up with a common policy both at the level of the congregation and the continents. The reason why the involvement should be for the whole institute is because both the root causes of the fast speeding epidemic and the possible solutions for the disease, do not always lie at the level of the continent itself. It is caused by the distorted global market policies, imbalance of trade, immoral political and economic competition of the rich world and their dirty dealings with the dictators of the developing world thirsty for petrol and other raw materials. For Example in Sudan, the government wanted to clean the area for free petrol production for different international companies such as CNPC (Chinese), MPCO (Malaysian), TEI (Canadian), Lundin Oil AB (Swedish), Petronas (Malaysian), OMV (Australia), Weir and Rolls Royce (both British). (See www.sudan-forall. Issue No. 1 November 2005)
Another reason why there is an urgent need for common strategy for the Institute is the immensity of the help needed for training community leaders to run mobile or community based centres for blood checking, distribution of Anti Retroviral medicine, education of the orphans and many other spiritual and economic assistances.
HIV/AIDS is the sickness of poor. Wherever there is poverty most likely the next unfailing guest will be HIV/AIDS. Especially in Africa and in any other developing nations, HIV/AIDS seem to be the scourge of the century.
The Good Shepherd goes in front of his sheep to check if there are wolves waiting in hiding ahead to attack when the sheep arrive. He faces the wolves even at the risk of being killed. The reasons for establishing common policy for the congregation is that as the followers of the spirituality of the heart of the Good Shepherd, we do not need to wait until more sheep are attacked. As the saying goes prevention is better than cure, in addition to collaborating with any group who is active on the field, we need to act proactively and prophetically empowering the poor to protect themselves.
In these circumstances, Comboni’s dream for Africa itself is in jeopardy. He meant that Africa will be saved by African leaders. Yet today the very leaders are the first targets of HIV/AIDS. It is a merciless enemy of life. It attacks the bread producer of the family. It destroys a person at the age when he or she is supposed to establish family and lead the society. The scourge of HIV/AIDS is too dangerous to ignore. In some of our missions most of the people for whom we worked hard with tremendous sacrifices, are n danger of being wiped out by HIV/AIDS.
Above all, the depth and the prophetic dynamicity of our faith are questioned. Do we really believe that people living HIV/AIDS are the body of Jesus Christ? Is our faith so alive that it enables us to see that Jesus has HIV/AIDS? Does it touch us to see that He is discriminated against and rejected in every HIV/AIDS sufferer by the society, by the church and by their own families and governments? Jesus identifies himself with the sick: “I was sick and you visited me…Truly I say to you: whenever you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25: 36-40) Are we ready to visit and embrace Jesus with AIDS? Let us make a unified and continuous plan for protecting the poor and visiting the infected as well as the affected ones.
We recommend that we Comboni Missionaries as good shepherds following in the foot steps of Jesus Christ need to act on the following proposals for the present and above all for the future of Africa.