The eyes of the world are focused on Toronto this week for the 16th International AIDS Conference, which has as its theme "Time To Deliver."
The Roman Catholic church does not face the pandemic of AIDS and HIV as "one more problem to be solved." The church promotes upright behaviour, life, conversion, repentance, and greater charity toward our neighbours.
From the very beginning of this crisis, the church has "delivered" to those suffering with HIV/AIDS without distinction or segregation - helping people to come to terms with their illness, with their deaths, and diminishing for them the sense of spiritual desolation that serious disease brings.
Last year on June 10, Pope Benedict XVI told the Bishops of South Africa at the Vatican: "Brother Bishops, I share your deep concern over the devastation caused by AIDS and related diseases. I especially pray for the widows, the orphans, the young mothers and those whose lives have been shattered by this cruel epidemic. I urge you to continue your efforts to fight this virus which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the Continent."
Again last December for the World Day Against AIDS, the Vatican issued an important message which said clearly that the best cure to avoid infection by HIV/AIDS is prevention.
Sexual transmission still remains the most important way of contracting the disease. The statement said "radical prevention must come from a correct conception and practice of sexuality, where sexual activity is understood in its deep meaning as a total and absolute expression of the fruitful giving of love. This totality leads us to the exclusiveness of its exercise in marriage, which is unique and indissoluble."
The statement concluded: "There can be no doubt that a defence and promotion of health is required that is a sign of the unconditional love of everyone, in particular for the poorest and the weakest, and which meets the human needs of every individual and the community."
The church is doing much more than often meets the eye or makes its ways into the news. Within the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Church has indeed delivered the goods of mercy, compassion, understanding and pastoral care at places like Barrett House, a residence operated by the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd - a home that allows those living with HIV/AIDS to do so with dignity. God alone knows how many thousands of women and men have experienced deep healing in their lives through the HIV/AIDS ministry of the Jesuits at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Toronto.
St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto has, thank God, never made distinctions among those who suffer, especially gay persons, drug users, poor people who have HIV/AIDS. St. Michael's, along with St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, have become leaders in HIV/AIDS treatment and care.
Many religious congregations like the Missionaries of Charity, the Society of Jesus, the Basilian Fathers, and others also care for persons with HIV/AIDS in Canada and throughout the world - through programs of health care, prevention and ongoing pastoral and social support.
Visit archtoronto.org/AIDS to see for yourself how the church has indeed "delivered." If you know of someone who can benefit from these excellent resources, please pass this information on. And if you are moved to go out of your own comfort zone and reach out to help, contact one of the centres mentioned and become a volunteer, a good Samaritan to those who suffer.