Having moved to Africa from America in 2002, Fr Michael Czerny, founder and director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN), taught at Hekima College, at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, collaborating with the Episcopal Conference of Kenya until 2010.
20 years since AJAN was founded, Fr Michael Czerny special message is that, “The 20th anniversary is the moment to look back with gratitude. It’s for others to testify that “orders have been followed” and “mission accomplished”; my desire as founding director is to focus on gratitude: to God for the good orientation received from JESAM; for the enthusiasm, involvement and generosity of young Jesuits from all corners of Africa; and eventually for generous support from abroad.
In his message to the AJAN fraternity Fr Michael Czerny says,
“When the African Jesuit AIDS Network began 20 years ago, it wasn’t born ex-nihilo; rather, it benefited from the several AIDS-ministries that had been established during the previous decade. In this context, on 21 June 2002, JESAM officially parented AJAN and baptized it with a three-fold mission:
- to help Jesuits in each African country they are in to respond to HIV and AIDS by bringing those involved together into a taskforce or working-group, and then developing an appropriate social ministry that is deeply rooted amongst those who suffer, that accompanies those who care for them, that is sensitive to the local culture, faith and spirituality, and that collaborates widely with others.
- to bind these national working-groups step-by-step into an effective continental Jesuit Network with its own voice and ability to act in a coordinated fashion.
- to develop good relations of co-operation with many other groups and associations, and with the larger church and Society of Jesus, relationships based on a sharing of information, expertise, financial and other resources.
A humorous aside: while its name is quite comprehensible and unambiguous in English, it wasn’t so easy to say African Jesuit AIDS Network in French and Portuguese, where the option had to be made more explicit: Réseau jésuite africain contre le sida and Rede de Jesuítas Africanas contra a AIDS.
A first prayer of gratitude goes to God for AJAN’s co-patrons and intercessors: Blessed Anuarite who gave her life saying “no” to illicit, promiscuous, violent sex, the principal motor of HIV-infection; and St Aloysius Gonzaga who gave his life saying “yes” to serving those afflicted by the pandemic.
Another way of giving thanks for AJAN’s two decades of history is to acknowledge the efforts and dedication of Ted Rogers who led the efforts that preceded AJAN, and of my three successors to date: Paterne Mombé, Elphège Quenum and Ismael Matambura. This is also to thank the Provincials who made them available, and the Eastern African Province for hosting AJAN House and making each director a welcome “applicatus”.
A third prayer of thanksgiving is summed up in one word: “Regents”! From the earliest days of AJAN, excellent regents have helped so much to make AJAN what it is. For me the achievement was best expressed by a scholastic testifying on the 5th anniversary, “AJAN, c’est nous!” In other words, “AJAN” is the name of the developing awareness, networking and ministry of young Jesuits throughout Africa, and its basis was the more radical discovery as Jesuits, “We are all infected or affected”.
AJAN has continued developing in response to the continuous evolution of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the African reality. This is crucial: AJAN’s roots in and fidelity to Africa are important because, outside the continent, both perceptions and priorities change without asking what is really happening in Africa. What strikes me is the growing awareness, over the years, of AIDS in the context of other endemic diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis, leprosy and ebola — all of them definable as illnesses of poverty and structural injustices — and now COVID-19 with its particular impact upon Africa. Accompanying all this, AJAN is rediscovering its mission within the broader context of public health at every level, from rural and urban settlements to each country’s responsibility for the health of its population. This is a development which the founding director did not foresee, but for which I now give thanks; may it be fully realized.
Accompanying the struggle to overcome HIV and AIDS throughout the continent, the Society of Jesus in Africa and Madagascar, guided by the Universal Apostolic Preferences for young people, outcasts and the poor, carries on its ministry of healing, justice and reconciliation.
May God continue to bless AJAN abundantly, and let’s all join in wishing a very happy 20th birthday!”
Communications and Research Officer, AJAN