Kingsley Chikwendu Madubuike SJ, a young Jesuit studying at the Arrupe College of Philosophy in Harare, shares some thoughts about AIDS following an AJAN workshop held there on 6 January 2014. His reflections are not his alone but also of fellow Jesuit students at Arrupe.
It’s no news that there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS and that the pandemic continues to kill people in large numbers especially on the African continent. However it seems that AIDS has become a tool in the hands of some forces, human and otherwise, to feed parasitically on our collective human vulnerability. This is one of the conclusions that I, and some other participants of an AJAN workshop recently held at Arrupe College, came to. At the same time, we greatly appreciate what we heard about the hard work being done to contain the pandemic, and advocate more concerted efforts to this end.
What we learned
The workshop was an eye-opener. First and foremost is the immense work that AJAN as a Church agency is doing in educating people, in research and in other ways of fighting AIDS.
Then there was the useful clarification of often confused terminologies. We now feel better informed to talk about the subject without mixing up things. We heard about the use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) at a preventive level and how important it is for people on ARVs to adhere faithfully to the administration of their medication.
We also learned that condoms are not fully reliable as a means of HIV prevention. What I personally find most challenging and surprising is that most young people do not quite see the wisdom in the Church’s stance on the use of condoms. They would rather take risks with their own lives.
The challenges ahead
The main challenge here is how to get young people who are sexually active to become more responsible and to buy the teachings of the Church in this regard. We need to make the wisdom and truth of the Church more marketable so that people may be better informed and better able to make choices that expose them less to the risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The fact remains, as the workshop facilitators reiterated, that sexual transmission accounts for more than 80% of new cases of HIV infection annually. Despite this stark reality, the worrying question is: do people in Africa have adequate information to handle the pandemic?
As young Jesuit scholastics who are also sexual beings, we felt we have the additional challenge of bearing witness through our lifestyle, especially by leading a chaste and responsible life.
These challenges push me as a young African Jesuit in formation to the very margins and crossroads of our society. Each one of us who attended the workshop views AIDS as a serious threat to humanity. We strongly feel God is inviting us to become prophets in our contemporary world by speaking the mind of Jesus and His Church to curtail the spread of the disease and to provide moral support and consolation to people living with HIV.
For the greater glory of God
We are prepared to embark on these endeavours with our Jesuit charism of seeing the world with the eyes of Jesus and of seeing the same Jesus in the people we reach out to. We are committed to working not only for the salvation of souls, as our Jesuit heritage calls us to do, but also for the salvation of the human body. After all, “The glory of God is man (and woman) fully alive” (St Irenaeus) and again, “Anima sana in corpore sano” – “A sound soul in a sound body.” We see this pandemic as nothing outside our very human condition and collective experience, and are prepared to work with all in justice and sincerity to tackle this problem for the greater glory of God and the utmost good of humanity.
On 6 January 2014, the director of AJAN, Fr Paterne Mombé SJ, and Fr Désiré Yamuremye SJ, who runs a comprehensive AIDS program in Burundi, held an AJAN workshop for young Jesuits in formation at Arrupe College in Harare, Zimbabwe. The aim of the workshop was to strengthen the capacity of Jesuit scholastics (that is, men training to become Jesuits) to face personal and pastoral challenges related to AIDS. The workshop challenged the young Jesuits to reflect on how AIDS affects them and took a wide-ranging look at the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Among the topics covered were: the pathology of HIV/AIDS; HIV transmission and prevention; theological, pastoral and ethical issues related to HIV/AIDS; stigma and discrimination, and HIV/AIDS as a social justice issue.