Fr Paterne Mombé SJ, AJAN Coordinator, writes about the unique approach to AIDS ministry of the Christian Life Community (CLC) in Rwanda.
A recent visit to Kigali gave me the opportunity to get to know CLC Rwanda and to discover all it is doing in the struggle against HIV and AIDS. The CLC chaplain, Fr Jean-Claude Michel SJ, spoke to me at length about the path the community has taken in the apostolic ministry of AIDS. During our conversation, many things impressed me as I realised just how rich and full of lessons the experience of CLC Rwanda is.
CLC Rwanda first became involved in AIDS ministry when the community was discerning during a spiritual retreat about what shared mission to adopt. Research and dialogue led CLC to choose to introduce a spiritual element to psychosocial and medical interventions developed for people affected by AIDS. So CLC Rwanda members started to meet people living with HIV for an apostolate of presence and spiritual accompaniment. Formation in spiritual conversation equipped them to offer this service.
One thing that struck me in my conversation with Fr Jean-Claude was what emerged from this apostolic engagement. On the one hand, it was marked by setbacks and discouragement, especially in cases of death and the refusal of people to talk about their situation, for one reason or other, including self-stigmatisation or fear of stigma. On the other hand, the service bore fruit as people weighed down by the burden of the pandemic rediscovered joy, hope and life.
The contact with reality occasioned by this mission opened the door to other challenges that CLC members couldn’t possibly remain indifferent to, not least the poverty suffered by many people with HIV, especially young women without the means to buy food or to look after their children. So the community found itself offering social support and material and financial aid in cases of great need and when resources were available.
Similarly, the care for orphans and vulnerable children developed gradually as another apostolic sector in which the CLC Rwanda ended up being involved. The community is trying to respond to the major challenge of access to education for these children. And CLC Rwanda also does HIV prevention among youth through education, making room for parental involvement in their strategic approach.
In short, starting out from spiritual engagement, the response of CLC Rwanda has gradually consolidated and extended to meet more of the multi-faceted challenges thrown up by the pandemic.
CLC is now looking to set up a centre of comprehensive care, something that needs plenty of discernment and resources, which we hope the community will find.
AJAN pays tribute to the quality of the experience of CLC Rwanda. Their experience shows it is impossible to promote a spiritual approach to the pandemic without coming into contact with its social aspects. It also serves as model of collaboration between the Society of Jesus and lay people to bring a Church response to the challenges of the pandemic.