Christians and the Fight Against Aids
A Pastoral Note
Permanent Council of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference
NOTE: This Pastoral Note from the Portuguese Episcopal Conference was publicly read at, and then distributed to all Portuguese Parishes toward the end of November 2001.
In it we see the far reaching Spiritual Vision of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, which, without trampling Divine Law nor Church Law has, once more, shown the way for the regeneration of the Roman Catholic Church without fanaticism.
We pray that he Vatican pay careful attention to the vision of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference since, as every faithful child of the Virgin Mary should know, She promised that "...In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved;..." which may mean, by inference, that the true Faith will be lost everywhere else.
1. On December 1st. , at the initiative of the National Commission For The Fight Against AIDS, nationwide attention will be drawn to this grave threat to the national health. The Church cannot remain indifferent to such collective effort because it is a grave problem; because the Christian spirit of fraternal service to all those who suffer demands it; and, because our sense of moral responsibility, inspired in the Gospel, must bring a very specific contribution which may be decisive to the solution of the problem.
Such is the purpose of this Pastoral Note, which explains the orientation of the Church in this fight. We ask that the Parish Priests, the Catholic Press and all Lay Movements and Associations of the Catholic Church that this Note be disseminated widely so that the generalized clarification of our position sets into motion actions and attitudes.
2. The gravity of this disease and the threat it poses to all of humanity cannot be ignored any longer. It is not an exaggeration to state that whole countries and continents are threatened. This gravity is underscored, not only by the symptomatic consequences of the disease but also by its ease of transmission which is linked to one of the most universal forms of human expressions - sexual intimacy.
The seriousness of this disease is augmented by not knowing the number of seropositive individuals, who are potential transmitters of the disease, and yet, not know that they are. Preventive measures would be easier and more objective if the HIV Positive individuals were identified, specifically, if each individual would be made aware of his/her condition.
Since a universal tracking system is out of the question, the responsibility rests upon each individual. It would then be advisable that, before starting a stable relationship, in matrimony or otherwise, the parties involved subject themselves to a medical examination to determine their HIV condition. The knowledge derived from such examination would give the couple peace of mind and stability plus another incentive to be faithful to his/her partner.
If this attitude (pre-relationship medical examination) is advisable to those who have no reason to be suspect of being seropisitives, it becomes a duty for those who, as a result of the infidelities of her/his partner or his/her disordered behavior, run such risk. It is a grave and serious moral responsibility to be in a situation whereby one may infect the individual with whom intimacy is shared.
3. What we have just stated highlights our conviction that the fight against AIDS, in regards to preventive measures, results from the great responsibility that, for Christians, it has the solid foundation of fraternal love, the dignity of love and sexuality in the human being - as expressions of generous intimacy - and the acceptance of moral norms.
The conjugal fidelity due to the partner chosen to share ones life with, and chastity, as an expression of living an equilibrated and generous sexuality, are decisive elements in the fight against AIDS.
Humanity has always defeated its crises and threats with the force allowed by freedom; a freedom inspired by spiritual and cultural values. We must recognize that AIDS is more than a threat; it can be a sign of a crisis for civilization.
Amongst the preventive methods, the "physical barrier", which separates two bodies during sexual intimacy, an intimacy which in itself is a fulfilling encounter of the entire being, has occupied a privileged position. We do not believe that the fight with this threat (AIDS) can succeed without mobilizing our personal freedoms and consciences which will then lead to a real transformation of human behavior.
The position dictated by Catholic morals in regards to the use of preservatives is well known. A position based on the fact that it deeply alters the sense and meaning of human sexuality. No reason can move the Church to cease affirming such truth because only said truth can move people towards new stages of responsibility and generosity.
The Christian perspective of existence is not necessarily an easy road; it is a protracted fight in which the Christian, confronted with the cross of Jesus Christ Himself, may win with the force of the Spirit of God. Living out one's sexuality, generously and responsibly, is demanding yet, possible, and, only in such manner it will contribute happiness.
4. If the prevention of the disease constitutes an appeal to responsible behavior, the assistance to those suffering from AIDS is a demand stemming from fraternal charity. As it occurred in diseases of the past, AIDS carries a social stigma. That is one more reason appealing to our fraternal charity. As we sponsor, marking the Christian Jubilee, an institution for the benefit of those sufferings from AIDS, Domus Fraternitas, still under construction, we want to highlight this responsibility of the Church.
Great progress has been made in the clinical treatment of this disease, which, without being eradicated, allows the prolongation of quality life for the patient. Nonetheless, on a worldwide level, there still is a long way to go in order to provide to all AIDS patients access to these treatments. This effort requires substantial financing.
In the history of mankind, great collective calamities were always opportunities to new forms of solidarity, mutual help and motivation for spiritual renovation. Through the Grace of God, the human family is up to defeat this threat to the integrity and beauty of life.
Fátima, November 19, 2001
A Commentary by miguel de Portugal
In plain English, what the Fathers of the Portuguese Roman Catholic Church are saying, as openly as they are able to, is that:
We are here and we have to get there. Saints are not made overnight but we must
start someplace. Divine Law is not negotiable but with love, compassion and humility we can help
our brothers and sisters who live a disordered life, one step at a time, to move closer to the
goals our Lord Jesus Christ set for us so that our passing through this world be as easy and as
painless as possible.
It makes one wonder: Why should a person be almost in a complete state of Grace before partaking of the Eucharist - the food for the soul? Did not our Lord Jesus Christ state:
Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the
righteous to repentance but sinners. [S. Luke 5:31-32]
Would it not be a more important qualification for partaking of the Eucharist a burning desire to abandon the state of disgrace our soul is in as a result of our human misery and fallen nature?
Food is needed to maintain our physical health and to give us strength but, when the body is weak and ill nourished the food becomes an even more important part of our daily lives.
What about the "food for the soul"? The same applies to it so long as the burning desire for regeneration is raging within the soul of the individual.
May those who have ears, hear... And those who have courage and faith in the Goodness and Mercy of God, act.
First Published by The M+G+R Foundation on February 2002.
Copyright 2002 by The M+G+R Foundation. All rights reserved.
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