Following the April regional HIV/AIDS consultation in Odessa, Ukraine, the representatives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) expressed concern about the new challenges that will be brought by the new European Union (EU) on the relationship between churches and the AIDS issue.
They warned, “Countries and churches that have been experiencing growing relations with each other as neighbors, are likely to find themselves divided again from one another, based on who is included or excluded from this new political union.”
Around 40 participants, including bishops, pastors and lay members, youth, medical and social work professionals, and those involved in the diaconal work of the churches, attended the consultation, focusing on the churches' response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Europe.
They acknowledged that the entry of 10 new countries into the EU is expected to lead to an increase in the migration of people across borders, giving rise to new fears and possible problems. Especially, the 10 new entrants are from the Eastern and Central Europe where difficult living condition continues to prevail.
In the message titled "Bound Together," the representatives of LWF member churches in Europe were reminded about the reason of standing here, "As churches in communion with one another, we are called to stand in solidarity with those who continue to suffer in many ways, including through the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS in many of these countries.”
While the spread of HIV/AIDS had been contained in some of the countries, it was escalating in others. Therefore, churches should have developed extensive and effective programs to care for and support persons affected by HIV/AIDS. However, the church leaders from LWF said that not all the churches in Europe are aware of this.
The church leaders also recognised that the threat of HIV/ AIDS is also related to other economic and cultural factors, especially the negative forces of globalization and the weakening of families and other social structures that give meaning, values and direction to life.
To those who are infected by HIV/AIDS, the churches are to strive to become "safe places" for them. Churches have a distinct responsibility to address the various spiritual dimensions at stake in sensitive and appropriate ways. Not only they have to embrace HIV/AIDS patients but also through church liturgies, sermons and prayers to uplift them.
As prevention is better than cure, churches are encouraged to learn the facts about HIV/AIDS and the actual needs of the people who are affected. The churches must educate the families and communities about HIV/AIDS and related topics openly to break the silence caused by religious barrier.
Most importantly, churches should focus on deepening theological reflection "through more biblically grounded theological learning, discernment and discussion in order to respond from out of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we proclaim and seek to live out."
Churches were urged to "teach Christian values that promote and protect life, based on love for self and neighbor. Churches should teach values that support marriage and family life, as well as mutual sexual responsibility and faithfulness to one another."
To diminish the spread of HIV/AIDS, collaboration with other churches, ecumenical bodies, NGOs, governments, and self-help groups from local to international levels is essential, they stressed.
The regional HIV/AIDS consultation in Odessa, Ukraine was hosted on April 20-25 by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine.
The Odessa consultation was the last out of four regional consultations for LWF member churches under the 2002 LWF global campaign against HIV/AIDS and its action plan "Compassion, Conversion, Care: Responding as Churches to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic." Similar meetings took place in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia.