03/27/2009, 00.00
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India’s experience backs Pope on AIDS, says Cardinal Gracias

by Nirmala Carvalho
Speaking to AsiaNews the prelate talks about the Church and it 64 AIDS treatment centres. He reiterates that the Church cannot “water down its teachings just to please public opinion—what is objectively right is right and what is wrong is wrong.”
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Indian Church is directly involved in caring for people living with AIDS, running 64 AIDS treatment centres. It is convinced that the disease must also be tackled from an ethical and moral point of view. For this reason, it shares the views expressed by Benedict XVI at the beginning of his trip to Africa, said Oswald Gracias, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of India, in an interview with AsiaNews.

His statement comes on the same day that the British medical journal Lancet further stirred the controversy over the Pope’s remarks by demanding the Vatican issue a “retraction” of what it considers a “false scientific statement”.

“Our beloved Holy Father has given us the clear Catholic teaching, which is also found in our dearly loved Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae. Pope Benedict has thus not said anything new; he simply reiterated the authentic teaching of Our Holy Mother the Church.”

What the Pope said applies to India as well?

“Certainly, this is very true for India. I would most certainly reiterate the statement of our beloved Holy Father for India. In fact, some government officials are also saying that fidelity and abstinence are important values.”

“The Church absolutely cannot water down its teachings just to please public opinion—what is objectively right is right, and what is wrong is wrong. However, the Universal Church, especially the Indian Church, is compassionate towards those who are afflicted by the disease. Yet, we cannot compromise on our teachings.”

“The Church has a prophetic role to play. With charity and compassion we announce the salvific truth, not to denounce or condemn, but rather to help and empower the generations for the common good of humanity.”

“The Indian church has more than 64 centres for the care of AIDS patients who are in an advanced phase of the disease. Our HIV/AIDS policy includes fighting prejudice and promoting access to health care for people affected by the disease.  But we must remember that HIV/AIDS is not just a medical concern, it is a developmental issue as well. About 85 per cent the Church's 3000 health-care facilities serve rural populations.”

AIDS has become an epidemic in India. According to government figures, more than five million people are infected, the highest number in any country except for South Africa. Non-governmetal experts say that number is even higher.

“AIDS is causing us much anxiety and we hope that medical research will be able to find a remedy for this. We continue to expand our services to those afflicted by AIDS; moreover, we impart ethical and moral teachings in our institutions, giving them the benefit of Gospel values in society.”

“People living with HIV/AIDS face discrimination which is dehumanizing. Suffering strips the person's sense of worth and dignity. The Indian Church through our services offers a message of hope to our patients. We do not provide only medical services, but treat people with dignity. Through our services, we build an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance that help get rid of the stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS.”

“We must remember that AIDS has by far many profound repercussions of a moral, social, economic, juridical and structural nature, not only on individual families and neighbourhood communities, but also on nations and the entire community of peoples. Hence it is essential in this context that our Church to call us to live and act as informed citizens and faithful disciples.

“The crisis continues but its challenges can be met with understanding, justice, reason and deep faith. For this reason our Beloved Holy Father is a prophet in our times.”

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