Harare Zimbabwe


HIV/AIDS: A Call to Solidarity with Human Suffering
“The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts...” (G.S. no. 1)

Certainly we have heard and read this prologue of Gaudium et Spes a number of times. But how much have we gone into the depth of these words and discover the great wealth of meaning they are especially in relation to human suffering. Today HIV/AIDS is an existential human problem that has continued to claim lives of men and women of our families and communities casting heavy clouds of fear and despair on both those infected and those affected with the disease. As we know, Africa especially the Sub-Saharan is rated the most hit by the epidemic. International Communities through non-governmental organisations, the Church and single men and women work hard tooth and nail everyday trying to offer financial, material, and psychological support to the people leaving with HIV/AIDS as well as those looking after them. Not to mention recent medical development through Anti Retro Viral drugs. Nonetheless, all these efforts seem not to contain the daily horror that characterises those infected who know pretty well that they have to live with the disease for the rest of their life. Worst of all is the inescapable fact that one day they will have to die. In this case, fear of death is the most devastating emotion for them. The end result is to succumb to the illusion of despair under which lie some fundamental questions: ‘what about my children, my partner – husband or wife, my parents, my grandparents, my siblings, my dependants?’ The list goes on. Worse still is the fact that those infected with HIV/AIDS know very well that people, including their own families, relatives and friends begin to look at them and relate with them with mixed attitudes – rejection, mistrust, worry and disappointment. This sort of treatment leads to deep sited pain, anger, depression, frustration and regret in their hearts. This is where the deception of despair comes into play in them. Another problem faced with them is the feeling of being unloved and of not belonging – a kind of false belief that the world has turned against them. They are aware of the discrimination that comes along with HIV/AIDS. After all, who does not want to be loved? Even the healthiest need the affirmation of love as well as a sense of belonging as often as possible for it is a human need.

Another painful reality of HIV/AIDS is loss of dignity, worth and identity. In the depth of their hearts, those living with it ask themselves: ‘Who am I before others now?’ ‘Have I any reason to live?’ ‘What is the value and meaning of life when I know for certain that death is approaching? The invitation of Gaudium et Spes becomes very strong here. It calls for compassion and charity in our dealing with those with HIV/AIDS, if we are to accept them as still part of the human family. And this is the solidarity that we are called to exercise with those who are suffering from HIV/AIDS. No matter the means they contracted it, it is not time to condemn them be it through verbal or non-verbal communication. What should move us is their need to be loved and to be respected as human beings like any other. HIV/AIDS should not at all cost take away the respect human beings are endowed with. As long as we are failing to witness with both mind and heart to the concrete realities of those who are living with HIV/AIDS, we risk approaching them at a purely intellectual level hence the likelihood of failing in showing compassion to them and giving them hope.

Jesus set us for us an example of solidarity with human suffering when he ate and drunk with sinners, tax collectors and outcasts (Lk 6.29-32). He also reached out to the lepers, who in the society of their time, were considered unclean and almost less human. Jesus must have deliberately went against the acceptable thought pattern of his time in order to introduce a new and dignifying way of relating with those discriminated against for the sake of their social status. Surely Jesus would have done the same today in so far as discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS is concerned as he instructed us to be compassionate: “Be compassionate just as your father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned (Lk 6.36, 37). Therefore, there is no greater help we can offer them than the attitude that they are still of worth, they are lovable and that they still possess their humanity with all the meaning it has. Only then can we become true disciples of Christ who lead those in dehumanising conditions back to dignity and wholeness.

Therefore, Gaudium et Spes calls us to be ministers of hope and joy and not sorrow and despair to those with HIV/AIDS. It is this joy and hope that can make them regain their sense of purpose and value in life. Joy and hope are among the essential timbers that hold our being and maintain it on its axis. If Christ commands us to be compassionate, as seen above, it means he knows that the human heart is capable of anything that gives meaning to those in any kind of suffering including HIV/AIDS: ‘Nothing th
Gilbert Chongo CSSp