KIEV, Ukraine, APRIL 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church must never fail to support those infected with HIV/AIDS and work to overcome the stigma often associated with the disease, says the archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland.
That was the message given Thursday by Archbishop Mario Conti at the three-day HIV/AIDS conference organized by Caritas Europa in Kiev.
Archbishop Conti told delegates from all over Europe that assisting those living with HIV/AIDS is a modern corporal work of mercy.
Reminding his audience that the Church has a long tradition of ministering to those rejected by society, the 73-year-old archbishop called for more efforts to overcome mistaken prejudices about the Church's attitude to AIDS.
Archbishop Conti said: "It needs to be said again and again that the Catholic Church is committed to those works of mercy in the field of HIV/AIDS. It is very regrettable that such a message rarely gets across.
"Prejudice assumes that because the spread of the virus in some cases is through sexual intercourse, the Catholic Church will be unsympathetic to its victims."
"Worse still," the archbishop continued, "an accusation has been leveled at the Church that its attitude and teaching against the use of condoms has been a factor in the spread of the disease."
Providing health care
Archbishop Conti said that the Church is the leading caregiver for AIDS victims.
"Neutral estimates suggest that 25% of all people in the world living with HIV/AIDS are being assisted or cared for by the Catholic Church and its institutions," he said. "Indeed, there is no larger provider of health care to this group.
"The Church is being most true to itself when presenting a vision of life and a program of human behavior which becomes the dignity of man and woman in one of the most significant interrelational acts, namely that of conjugal love."
The Glasgow prelate added: "Where that vision is embraced and that practice endorsed we can see the fruits are not only discernible in cultural terms but also in terms of public health.
"Uganda is one of the greatest success stories in the fight against AIDS, with its abstinence program bringing down the HIV infection rate from more than 30% to below 6%."
Archbishop Conti said, "Restoring people's confidence and helping them overcome prejudice is an essential part of any work with HIV/AIDS patients. In doing so, Church agencies must lead by example."