Archdiocese shield From Archbishop Gregory

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory lays hands on an AIDS patient

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory lays hands on an AIDS patient from the Missionaries of Charity's Gift of Grace House during the archdiocesan World AIDS Day Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta.
(Photo by Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin)

Eucharist for a World Living With AIDS

Friday 1 December, 2006
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Parish
Atlanta, Georgia

green cross Wilton D. Gregory,
Archbishop of Atlanta

During these concluding days of the liturgical year, the Word of God offers ample references regarding visions for us to consider.  John the Evangelist shares his apocalyptic visions about the end times – visions and occurrences that are both intriguing and frightening at the same time.  In this evening’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to be attentive to the things that they see around them – in other words to read the signs of the times.  We too because we are today’s disciples must be alert to the signs of the times in which we live.

One of those signs that like the visions of John that we just listened to that are simultaneously both beguiling and alarming is the global reaction to the persisting spread of the pandemic of HIV-AIDS.  We have lived with this reality for 25 years now in the USA and our responses to the disease and to the sorrow that it has left in its wake have been both inspiring and horrifying. 

Thanks be to God, we can now speak about HIV-AIDS as an illness that is indiscriminate in its reach and impact.  It has touched the lives of infants within the womb, patients infected through blood transfusions in hospitals, men and women, people of every class, age, race, and ethnic community.  The increasing attention given to this disease is a sign of the mounting awareness of the sorrow that this plague has placed within the heart of the human family – this growing awareness is also a sign of the solidarity that all people must experience as we continue to search for cures for the disease and to comfort those whose lives have been touched by it.

But there is also a disturbing vision that we cannot ignore or deny.  Some people still wish to focus exclusively upon how the HIV-AIDS is transmitted and those people who may have suffered disproportionately from its presence.  Some folks still wish to withhold their compassion because of biases that continue to be a residual effect of the sin of hatred and discrimination.  The world has lived with HIV-AIDS for 25 years; however we have lived with such bigotry for all of our human history.

This evening, in prayer and at the Eucharist we embrace those people who continue to endure this disease and its repercussions, whether personally or because one of their loved one suffers or has succumbed to this plague.  We also pray for a softening of the heart of humanity to be more compassionate in caring for those who may need our solidarity the most.

Our world has been changed because of HIV-AIDS and we continue to need to change hearts to respond in love to those whose lives have been turned upside down in the wake of this new reality.  The great quilt of names of people who have died from AIDS serves as a sacramental reminder of the lives that have been taken from us because of this pandemic.  Wherever it is displayed it evokes a vision of wonder, awe, and sorrow that so many wonderfully talented and vibrant people have been taken from us because of this disease – and of our own too-frequent unwillingness to respond in a compassionate fashion to this pandemic.

The Catholic Church both locally and universally has been able to present a face of compassion that, while not yet perfect, is a sign of hope and a source of pride for us.  It would be best for all, if HIV-AIDS were not a factor of life for any person, but in the world in which we live, I am deeply thankful for the people of good will who provide a vision of hope, kindness, and empathy for those who live with this disease and those who grieve the loss of a loved one from this illness. 

These people, many who are present at this Mass and many others from the heritage of Faith in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, provide for all of us a vision of Christ that is both encouraging and challenging much like the themes from the Word of God that so dominates this time of the Church Year.  May we enter the New Year with more hope than fear, more love than hate, more compassion than apathy, and more reasons to believe in the dignity of all men and women rather than examples that betray that common dignity.