When Pope Francis pays a visit to Naples March 21 he will have lunch with some 90 inmates at a local prison, a contingent that will reportedly include 10 from a section reserved for gay and transgendered prisoners, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
The stopover at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center in Poggioreale, near Naples, was originally not scheduled to include lunch, according to a report from Tv2000, an Italian television network operated by the country’s Catholic bishops.
But the pope insisted on the meal, which will be prepared by the prisoners, some of whom will come from two other detention centers. The 90 were chosen by lottery from among 1,900 inmates, according to the Vatican Insider website .
Among the many innovations Francis has made since his election two years ago this month has been a new tone and approach to gay and transgender people.
Advent is a time for stories. In my childhood, these weeks were filled with Sunday school pageants, beautifully illustrated children's books, and swapping out Legos for the figurines in my mom’s Nativity collection. My favorite part of the Advent story was always the gathering of unlikely companions — magi, shepherds, angels, and a menagerie of farm animals. This year, I find the Advent story accompanied by another, and it starts like this:
Gold, frankincense, myrrh: precious gifts carried by three magi for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Gold, coltan, diamonds: precious gifts of Creation held in the earth of Congo, taken by the "kings" of powerful nations for the commodities of their people. Coltan alone can be found in the cell phones, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices we use in the West every day. These gifts have become a curse with the massacre of over 5.5 million Congolese, numbers nearly equal to the Holocaust. Yet Congo’s conflict remains mostly silent.
During the past 30 years, the AIDS pandemic has provided an unfortunate opportunity to follow God’s call to care for the widow and orphan. Husbands succumb to illness, leaving behind wives and children who also carry the disease. Mothers die, leaving behind children without care, and too often is the case that those children — who could have avoided in utero transmission of HIV with proper medical care — also die. Entire families are lost.
This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day. This day is not simply about wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity in the fight against AIDS. Instead, it is an opportunity to address the tough issues presented by HIV, such as how those disproportionately affected by the disease mirror society’s most marginalized populations — the poor and women — and how faith-based communities can best serve those populations.
We are making historic progress against HIV/AIDS: The global rate of new HIV infections has leveled, and the number of annual AIDS deaths has decreased by nearly a third since 2005. Antiretroviral drugs are driving these gains by stopping progression of the disease and, we now know, preventing the spread of HIV infections.
Yet AIDS remains the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty limits access to lifesaving treatments and 25 million people are living with HIV—representing 70 percent of cases worldwide. President Barack Obama should be commended for uniting the world behind the goal of creating an AIDS-free generation. I share his passion and believe we can achieve this in the next decade — but only if we accelerate the provision of antiretrovirals to the poorest and most vulnerable people.
The opportunity has never been clearer. New data published in the New England Journal of Medicine project that early treatment with antiretrovirals in South Africa, my home country, would prove very cost-effective over a lifetime (costing $590 per life-year saved) and generate both public health and economic benefits. The World Health Organization now recommends early and preventive treatment with antiretrovirals, including administration to children and uninfected partners of people living with the disease. The WHO estimates that this could save an additional 3 million lives and prevent at least as many new HIV infections through 2025.
When Obama and I met in South Africa in June, I reminded him that, given his deep familial roots in the continent, his success is our success — his failure, our failure. With that in mind, there are two decisions Obama can make before the end of this year to fulfill the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
I am not shy about using the saltshaker, and neither I nor anyone else in my family has any sort of problem with blood pressure. That’s because we mostly don’t eat things that come out of packages or from fast-food places (where someone else takes them out of packages), and the salt that is a problem in the North American diet doesn’t come from the saltshaker but from the extreme levels of sodium in packaged foods.
But you will never hear Michelle Obama say that.
There was a similar unutterability to everything having to do with AIDS back in the day. Even when scientists had a fairly clear understanding of the nature of the threat and how it was spread, most “official” speech tended toward a hedging: “we don’t know what causes it; we don’t want to say what’s causing it …” Even today people don’t get tested because they don’t want to know, even though getting tested obviously doesn’t give you the virus — it merely points out that it is there. It seems to point to so much more, though.
U2 frontman Bono exchanged Bible references and bantered about music, theology, and evangelicals’ role in AIDS activism in a recent radio interview with Focus on the Family President Jim Daly.
Growing up in Ireland with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, Bono imitated C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, where Lewis argued that Jesus was a lunatic, liar or Lord.
“When people say ‘Good teacher,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Really nice guy,’ … this is not how Jesus thought of himself,” Bono said. “So, you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who he said he was or a complete and utter nut case.”
Look for a billboard on the right and a sign on your left. There’s a dirt road. Turn there.
In this part of the world, most of the streets have no names. So the directions we were given to find the new compound where my son’s Malawian relatives relocated a few months earlier were pretty specific given the circumstances.
We had hoped to be able to visit with Vasco’s 16-year-old half-brother, Juma, his Aunt Esme, and a handful of cousins and other relations for a couple of hours. By the time we found the family’s new compound, we had less than an hour before we had to get back on the road, meet the rest of our traveling companions, and head north before the sun fell.
I was heartbroken. But when we pulled up in our van, Vasco’s relatives were so happy to see us (and vice versa) that even the woefully short visit felt richly blessed. It had been three years since we’d seen each other. The last time was in May 2010 when Vasco, my husband, and I traveled from California to Blantyre for our adoption hearing. We spent a month in Blantyre and were able to get to know Vasco’s extended family (or, sadly, what remains of it) and begin piecing together our son’s complicated biography.
Since our last visit, Vasco, now 13, has grown about a foot and then some. He’s also traded his close-cropped “Obama cut” for Bob Marley-esque locks. Vasco wasn’t the only one who’d changed – visibly and otherwise.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the planet, with more than 9 million people living on about $1.25 a day. HIV/AIDS, which we believe claimed the lives of Vasco’s birth parents before he would have entered kindergarten, remains a critical health issue. Among 15- to 49-year-olds, the HIV/AIDS rate hovers above 10 percent despite widespread efforts to combat the fully preventable disease.
Malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhea-related fatalities remain high in Malawi. So does unemployment, particularly among younger workers in urban areas such as Blantyre, where it is approximately 70 percent.
“What? What happened?” My co-worker asked, sensing the solemn look on my face.
“Another patient died,” I reported. Grief and thick silence hang in the air as I thought back to the last time I saw this person, hospitalized, unable to speak, but for a brief moment our hands met in an embrace, and although he couldn’t speak, his demeanor and soft touch of the hand said it all.
I brought myself back to the present moment. It was the end of the work day and I strapped on my helmet to bike home, a Lenten commitment I’ve found to be incredibly rejuvenating.
I pedal past the housing projects and turn the corner around the city jail. Activists holding bright colored placards protest peacefully against the death penalty. I smile at them. “Keep up the good work!” I enthuse, giving them a thumbs up from my navy blue mitten and pedal on my way.
A second later, it hits me. Tears rush to my eyes but refuse to come out. The taut muscles in my throat contract; that familiar lump in which no words can come out, just expressions of the heart. Yes, it hit me.The juxtaposition and irony of it all. Life and death. One man died today from four letters that no one should ever have to die from, but globally, some 1.8 million do every year. Another man protested for the life of another to not be cut short before the redemption and healing and forgiveness began.
On my desk, next to my laptop, is a can of seltzer water. My grapefruit-flavored, bubbly water sits about four inches away from my left hand as I write. When the can is empty, I might take another from the fridge or fill up a water bottle at the kitchen sink.
Water drives my day, but I rarely think about it. I cook pasta in it. I heat water to make tea. I fill a bucket to mop the floor and a draw a bath with hot water and soak in it. At the moment, my dishwasher is growling away, and I’m waiting to hear the pleasant beep that alerts me that the clothes in the washer downstairs are clean.
I’ve never considered water a women’s issue. Not until this past week, that is. On Friday, the day before World AIDS Day 2012, I had the privilege of attending World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World luncheon in New York City. Strong Women, Strong World is a new initiative “supporting sustainable change in some of the difficult places in the world to be a girl or a woman.” The focus of the day was water.
The Honorable Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador at-large for Global Women’s Issues, spoke at the event. She celebrated the progress humanitarian organizations such as World Vision have made in the effort to eradicate HIV/AIDS, but reminded us that the number of people living with HIV is at an all-time high. In 2010, HIV/AIDS killed 1.8 million people. Sixty percent of those living with HIV are girls and women, and AIDS is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age (15-44 years old) globally.
“HIV,” Ambassador Verveer said, “has the face of a woman.”
Sojourners President and CEO Jim Wallis joined voices worldwide rallying in the fight against AIDS. The ONE Campaign — an international nonprofit focused on global health and poverty issues — today launched its "It Starts With Me" video campaign.
As people of faith, it is not uncommon to pray for miracles when faced with overwhelming obstacles. For many of us, AIDS has been one of those mind-boggling, heart-wrenching causes that has wreaked havoc on the world and been the subject of many prayers.
Since the early days of the disease, the focus has been on a cure. Researchers worked tirelessly for it and the faithful asked God to provide it. But the cure has never come.
And yet, as we mark another AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1, there is evidence of the miraculous.
After 24 years of commemorating this day with grim statistics and little hope, there is finally good news.
Millions of people are receiving treatment. Many fewer people are dying.
The new infection rate has dropped by 50 percent or more in 25 countries since 2001. With access to treatment, being HIV-positive is now considered a chronic disease, not a fatal one.
By the time President Obama walked off the stage at Chicago’s McCormick Place after delivering his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, pundits already were screaming HERE COMES THE FISCAL CLIFF!
And while it might have been a nice idea to take a collective breath after such a divisive election season before new screeching began, the pundits were not wrong.
Be warned: The Fiscal Cliff approaches. On Jan. 2, 2013, to be exact.
Now, I am many things, but an economist (or even a person remotely comfortable with numbers) is not one of them. So let me explain to those of you who are like me, in the simplest terms possible, what this proverbial cliff is all about.
In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis last summer, Congress and President Obama agreed to enter into negotiations to enact a 10-year deficit reduction package in excess of $1.2 trillion.
If an agreement could not be reached, a mandatory, across-the-board reduction in spending (also known as “sequester” or “sequestration”) would occur. All discretionary and entitlement spending -- with a few exceptions -- would be subject to sequestration....
Under sequestration, the U.S. foreign aid that has made such a tremendous difference in Ethiopia and in the lives of countless millions of desperately poor Africans (and others) is in grave jeopardy.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Church leaders are pressing the Kenyan government to scientifically test herbal medicines that are used by millions to manage and treat diseases, saying the nontraditional therapies could be putting patients' health at risk.
The leaders say HIV/AIDS patients and others suffering chronic conditions are widely using the medicines, whose efficacy is unknown.
In 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Africa for the first time.
That trip took me to Kenya, Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, and Malawi.
And that trip changed me — heart, mind, soul — forever transforming my family and my world.
Today, five years almost to the day since I flew to Nairobi to begin my first African adventure, I'm sitting in the international terminal of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., waiting to board a 787 Dreamliner bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
An adventure lies ahead. And yet, so much more than that.
I've been to Africa twice now (this is my third visit to continent), and each time the people I've met and experiences I've had on the journey — all of it dripping with a grace so palpable I could almost smell it like so much sandalwood smoke wafting from an incenser — have shaped me and recalibrated my spirit.
I don't know specifically what Ethiopia has in store for me, but I am sure of one thing: The Spirit will be there.
For the second time in Chicago this year, the life of a gender-variant young person of color was lost to violence.
Donta Gooden’s body was found in an abandoned building on the city’s West Side late in the evening of August 14th. Gooden, 19, who also went by the name “Tiffany,” was stabbed to death just three blocks from where Paige Clay, a 23 year-old transgender woman, was shot and killed in April, according to media reports. The police investigation is ongoing.
The tragedy of these senseless killings, still so raw and heartrending for the loved ones of Gooden and Clay, is beyond comprehension and deplorable on every level. But perhaps even more unsettling is how often violent crimes against LGBTQ people occur and how little social outrage they ignite.
For many, these two terrible tragedies may melt into the background in a year when Chicago is scrambling to stem a rising tide of murder across the city (year -to-date homicides are up 25 percent from August 2011 according to data compiled by the Redeye. However, they are part of an alarming trend of violence targeting LGBTQ people of color – and transgender and gender-variant people of color in particular – which directly intersects with the front lines of the HIV epidemic.
From The Washington Post:
If this small nation, with a per capita income of less than $3 a day and a life expectancy of 53, offers a hopeful model for fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa, then large and relatively prosperous Uganda shows how quickly progress can run off track.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw Malawi’s more promising example Sunday as part of an eight-nation African visit. Last week in Uganda, she highlighted an alarming rise in infection rates there after years when the country was a leader in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. About 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are believed infected, and the United Nations has estimated that the region had 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths in 2010.
Read more here
I wonder what would happen if the daily barrage of negative, misleading political campaign ads were replaced just for a day by a one-minute clip from the opening ceremony of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., last week.
This replacement ad would feature a beautiful, regal woman from Nigeria sharing a heartfelt and poignant ‘thank you’ to the American people for literally saving her life by providing access to antiretroviral drugs — medicine that creates a modern-day “Lazarus effect” in people whose immune systems have been ravaged by AIDS — and also ensures that her daughter was born HIV-free. I wish every member of Congress could have heard these words, a ‘thank you’ that echoes what many nations in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing as they work to turn the tide of this deadly disease.
This one mother and child from Nigeria are only a snapshot of the millions of lives that have been transformed by American generosity and leadership through life-saving investments in the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — which have increased the number of Africans on treatment from a shameful 50,000 in 2002 to more than 4 million today.
It’s a rare place of worship where Muslims and Baha’is both congregate, and where prayer rugs share space with a silver cross, religious pamphlets on healing in Hebrew, and a bright scarlet AIDS bow. But on Wednesday afternoon, that was the scene at the Interfaith Prayer Room of the AIDS 2012 conference.
“This room is designed for Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Baha’is — for anyone who needs to find a place for quiet and prayer, and counseling, if necessary,” said Imam Dr. Abdul-Malik Ali, who just finished leading prayers beside a broad banner reading “Faith in Action — End Stigma Now.”
A sign in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic welcomed worshippers to the carpeted prayer room. Double doors cut the clamor of thousands of convention-goers to a murmur, so that inside, even the faintest clicking of the ventilation system was audible. To complete the contrast with the outside’s roar and bustle, the air was cool and the lights were gently dimmed.