AIDS 2012: Courage and Community Crossing Borders

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By Jon Pattee, Assistant Director for Media Relations

For decades, I carried a scrap of paper with a quote from Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. I’ve since lost the scrap, but I remain struck by his belief that challenges have degrees of usefulness — that there are anvils that forge you, and anvils that destroy you.

I had the privilege last week of attending and writing about AIDS 2012, and thereby being close to a community that, far from being destroyed by their challenges, is greater, stronger, and global.

The Washington, DC conference, which ran July 22-27, gathered 20,000 international participants working on all aspects of the HIV response. A July 20-21 Interfaith Pre-conference on HIV convened over 400 faith-based people and groups, setting the stage for the main event. As a member of the media team organized by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, I covered both.

I saw energy and determination literally overflowing the convention center’s cavernous halls, where people had to stand outside packed meetings to watch the proceedings on monitors. Lutherans from all over the world were a part of the throngs of delegates, and made themselves visible at speaking events and booths. I wrote about one group in particular in “Lutheran Grace: Making a Difference at AIDS 2012.” Writing another article, “Young Lutherans Tackle AIDS at International Conference,” I met Victoria Mumbula, 18, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zambia. She told me:

Being a teenager living with HIV, I thought it was a great opportunity to be here, to hear what other countries are doing about HIV. I’ve never had the courage to disclose my status to people back home, but since the interfaith pre-conference, I’ve felt I have that courage.

In fact, all kinds of courage were on display that week, including the bravery to work together across religious lines. I wrote about that in “Interfaith Prayer Room Welcomes Worshippers at AIDS 2012” (also published on Sojourners).

Since the commitment to Stand for Welcome is never far from my mind, I also covered a pre-conference event on how “Faith Leaders Work for Dignity of Migrant People Living with HIV.”

If you’re curious now about the themes and challenges tackled at AIDS 2012, one good place to start reading might be Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer’s piece on the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” blog,  “Faith and HIV/AIDS: Engaging a Renewed Solidarity to Save Millions of Lives.” He leaves readers with this supremely important question:

In the 1993 Oscar winning movie, “Schindler’s List,” Oskar Schindler is pictured at the end of the movie feeling guilty at not being able to save more Jews from the Nazis. Schindler, a real-life hero, saved thousands but his moment of retrospection left him thinking of the possessions he could have sold to “buy” more Jews for his industry where he protected them until the war was over.

If you knew that it was within your grasp to save more than 7 million lives and prevent 12 million new HIV infections over the next 10 years, how would you respond?

 

 

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