MANILA–Priests, religious and lay partners in health and social work as well as representatives from the HIV-positive community took part in the 6th Catholic Asia-Pacific Coalition on HIV-AIDS (CAPCHA) Conference last November 13-18 in Bayview Park Hotel, Manila.
“Be merciful as the Father is merciful” [Lk 6:36] was the conference theme, in line with the universal Church’s celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It also served as an expression of the Church’s way of responding to the HIV-AIDS issue–bringing the mercy of God to people living with HIV and strengthening greater commitment towards this advocacy.
Participants came from around 11 countries in the area (Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, India, Bangladesh, Australia, etc.), where already there are existing Catholic organizations and networks providing efforts at prevention, care, treatment and support of people living with HIV-AIDS and their affected families. Catholic youth ministry in the Philippines was represented through youth ministers coming from selected regions.
Ms. Teresita Marie Bagasao, Country Director of the United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS, reported that from the 2015 UNAIDS data, there are already 5.1 million people in Asia and the Pacific living with HIV. More than 90% increase of PLHIV and new infections from 2000 to 2015 and high HIV prevalence among key populations were noted in 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including the Philippines. People who inject drugs (PWID) contribute to the rapid spread of the virus; as well, rates among males having sex with males (MSM), the largest group in the at-risk population, are rising. HIV affects more young people, as there are now 600,000 PLHIV among youth ages 15-24 in Asia-Pacific as of 2015.
How the Catholic Church in the Philippines, through the Philippine Catholic HIV-AIDS Network (PhilCHAN), works in promoting the cause against HIV-AIDS was also showcased in the conference. The participants visited selected schools and treatment-care and support centers where the advocacy is at work. On the other hand, participants also had sessions to report on their respective country situations, challenges and existing programs and interventions. In addition, issues related to HIV-AIDS–homosexuality, prostitution, human trafficking and drug abuse, among others–were presented and discussed in a series of plenary sessions.
A conference highlight was the prayer and reflection led by Fr. Jerome A. Ponce, OFM, a “missionary of mercy” appointed by no less than Pope Francis for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. He highlighted the significant role of people serving the PLHIV, becoming fully immersed in their misery and pain, restoring their dignity, and becoming living signs of God’s merciful love to them.
The conference, aside from broadening knowledge on the HIV situation in Asia-Pacific and deepening the understanding of the theologico-pastoral response of the Church, also challenged countries and local churches to work more closely together in developing and strengthening Catholic networks which seek to address the issue from a genuine Christ-centered, ecclesial perspective.
Furthermore, as more youth are affected by HIV-AIDS through sexual activity and drug injection, the youth ministry of the Church is strongly challenged in the education of the young: not only towards prevention, but in providing integral formation on human dignity and sexuality rooted in authentic Catholic teaching.
The Chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Health Care, Most Rev. Julito B. Cortes, DD, during the Opening Eucharistic Celebration, said: “I pray, that through the work that we do, we make our sick brothers and sisters, as well as those disadvantaged by other circumstances, retrieve their lives, retrieve hope, retrieve their enthusiasm for life.” The 6th CAPCHA Conference served to renew the commitment of the Catholic organizations present to the United Nation’s goal of having zero HIV infections, zero stigma and discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2030. The participants continue the mission of becoming channels of God’s merciful love to those affected by HIV-AIDS and of engaging more Catholic groups and communities to be part of this advocacy.