Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Holy Father And The AIDS Epidemic In Africa

The Holy Father being greeted in Cameroon on March 17

(Fifth Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 29, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Hebrews 5:7-9.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2009]

If you don’t like the subject matter of my homily this morning, I would respectfully ask you to blame the Associated Press, or the Providence Journal, or some other representative of the mainstream media.

Do not blame me.

I say that because my homily today is given in direct response to the misinformation these groups put out on the very first day of our Holy Father’s visit to Africa last week.

They have forced me, as the shepherd of this flock here in Westerly, to address a subject that I would have preferred not to deal with today. But I’m not about to stand around and allow them to poison the minds of my parishioners with their lies and half-truths.

It all began when I was at a formal dinner a week ago Tuesday. A man sitting at the table with us made the following remark. He said, “Did you hear—in a speech he made today the pope said no to condoms for the prevention of AIDS? He’s in Africa where AIDS is killing millions of people, and he said that it was wrong for them to protect themselves by using condoms.”
The man shook his head, half in disgust, and half in disbelief.

The next day, in the Providence Journal, on page A4 the headline read: “Pope dismisses use of condoms as way of preventing AIDS.” The article contained the typical liberal media slant that the pope is backward and anti-scientific and basically out-of-touch with reality.

Oh really?

Let me now read to you an excerpt from a recent online article, which contains some very important information—some of which I shared with that gentleman at the dinner a week ago Tuesday. I can almost guarantee that you heard none of this from anyone in the mainstream media in the last 14 days. Listen to these words, and then see if you think the pope is backward and delusional for opposing condoms and for promoting things like chastity and monogamy and traditional marriage:

Edward Green is director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. He wrote Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning From Successes in Developing Countries and reported that, between 1989 and 2001, the average number of condoms per male ages 15 to 49 in African countries skyrocketed. So did the number of those infected with HIV. South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe had the world’s highest levels of condom availability per man. They also had the world’s highest HIV rates.
Norman Hearst is a family physician and epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, asked Hearst to do a scientific review to see if condom promotions had reversed HIV/AIDS epidemics. His review found the contrary was true. Countries with the most condoms per man tended to have the highest HIV rates. UNAIDS refused to publish Hearst’s findings.
“Condom promotion in Africa has been a disaster,” Hearst said.
Nearly every country on the continent has vigorously promoted condoms to stem the tide of the AIDS epidemic there. But the epidemic has only grown larger.
Uganda, on the other hand, has experienced the greatest decline in HIV prevalence of any country in the world, according to the Heritage Foundation. The Ugandan public education campaign against AIDS mentioned condoms, but emphasized abstinence.
Studies show that from 1991 to 2001 HIV infection rates in Uganda declined from about 15% to 5%.
“The Ugandan model has the most to teach the rest of the world,” said Green. “This policy should guide the development of programs in Africa and the Caribbean.” (from “Church vs. AIDS in Africa,” by Sister Grace Candiru. Source:

I guess the Holy Father isn’t so backward and anti-scientific after all! Obviously he opposes condom use first and foremost because it’s sinful, but according to these experts he’s right even on a purely natural level to promote chastity and monogamy and traditional marriage!

The scientific data supports his position, not the position of the “condom crowd”.

Now you might say, “Fr. Ray, that’s all well and good, but what does all this have to do with our Scripture readings today? The homily is supposed to relate to what’s said in the readings.”

For the answer to that question, take a look at this second reading we just heard, from Hebrews 5. There we read this important line: “Son though he was, [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Do we? That’s the key question! Do we learn obedience from what we suffer—especially when we suffer for our sinful behavior?

Now let me make an important distinction here: Jesus didn’t suffer because of his sins; he didn’t have any. He suffered for our sins. He learned obedience in the sense that he continually said yes to his Father’s will in his human nature, even when it led to the cross. He didn’t say no and then yes, as we often do.

Sometimes we’re like Jesus, in that suffering comes our way even when we’re very good. But at other times we allow suffering into our lives because we choose to sin. There’s a direct correlation that we can pinpoint (if we’re honest with ourselves) between the sinful activity we’ve engaged in and the evil consequences we’re experiencing. And that’s the way it is in over 90% of the cases of HIV infection in Africa and throughout the world. Every study I’ve ever read has shown that immoral behavior is at the root of the problem. Only a small number of AIDS cases stem from bad blood transfusions or other non-sinful causes.

So obviously the key to changing the terrible statistics is to change people’s behavior by promoting moral living, as the Holy Father has said over and over again. And, as the situation in Uganda has demonstrated, it works! The people of Uganda (or at least some of them) have learned obedience from what they have suffered as a nation, and that obedience has helped to save lives.

For the most part, the rest of the world has not learned this kind of obedience, largely because journalists and others in the media have continued to promote the lies about condoms and to ridicule people like the pope who have the moral courage to tell the truth!

So today our prayer should be very simple and very direct: “O Lord, when I suffer the consequences of my own disobedience, help me to repent, and confess, and to be more faithful in the future. Help me to learn obedience from what I suffer. And help our world to wake up and to face reality concerning this terrible disease of AIDS—so that people will live, not die.”