Put in perspective
AIDS/HIV suffering in Africa would decimate the Midwest population
By Tony Staley
Incidences of HIV/AIDS are so dramatically high in Africa that they stagger the imagination.
As Christians, we have an obligation to help. Fr. Richard Bauer, a priest from Salt Lake City serving in Tanzania puts it this way: "The body of Christ has AIDS, the body of Christ is dying." "If you, as Catholics, take your baptism seriously," Fr. Bauer told Catholic News Service, "you cannot ignore your brothers and sisters in Africa."
In all of Africa, nearly 34 million are infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, 22 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. To put that into perspective,22 million represents the combined populations of Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. And 34 million is the approximate combined population of Wisconsin and its neighboring states, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa or, to put it another way, it's 100 times the Catholic population of the Green Bay Diocese.
In Tanzania, 15-20% of the 31 million population are infected. AIDS first infected the blood supply in Tanzania in about 1983, because of the medically crude treatment of soldiers wounded in the border skirmishes with neighboring Uganda. It quickly spread through primarily heterosexual transmission. Today, Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, helps fund the HIV/AIDS outreach program Fr. Bauer directs in the Archdiocese of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
The Catholic Church in East Africa has been in the forefront of AIDS education, treatment and care, said Fr. Bauer. His own staff includes nurses, counselors and a physician.
High on his office's list of priorities are the children, but not just the tens of thousands with AIDS. There are also those whose "parents died (of AIDS), so they went to live with aunt and uncle. They died, now they're living with a third set of foster parents. It's an entire generation of African children growing up without parental care."
What can U.S. Catholics do to help our brothers and sisters in Africa with HIV/AIDS? Financial contributions are one obvious way. They can be sent to Catholic Relief Services, in care of World Mission Services, Diocese of Green Bay, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay 54305. The money will be used to provide health care workers and drugs and to make sure people receiving the drugs are eating at least 1,000 calories a day.
Fr. Bauer has another idea that can include each of us: Including a prayer for an AIDS vaccine in the prayers of the faithful in every U.S. parish.
Africa desperately needs the financial help of American Catholics, he said, but they need our prayers even more. That's something we each can do and that we're each called to do.