Catholic faith leaders got together to discuss response from the faith community to HIV in Goa on the side-lines of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on 19th May, at a memorial service organized by Human Touch Foundation at Margao.
Delivering the opening remarks, Peter F. Borges, Founder of Human Touch Foundation said, “Religious leaders can have massive impacts within their communities in the fight against HIV. With their considerable presence and reach, Church can help to shape government policies and advocate with the government for better access to healthcare. In addition, religious leaders can talk to and inform their own faith communities. The church is a powerful agent to change individual beliefs and values” He called for faith leaders to give and set examples and shape attitudes about HIV.
Narrating her experiences of addressing HIV during outbreak of the epidemic, Sr. Lourenca Marques, said that even today that faith leaders are lagging back and have a key role to play in increasing access to HIV testing and treatment, breaking silence and stigma, promoting human rights, and building bridges between people and communities affected by HIV.
Explaining the plans of Human Touch Foundation, Sr. Crina Cardozo talked about initiating programmes of reducing stigma and promoting HIV testing in Goa through involvement of faith leaders in line with the campaign of World Council of Churches, leading by example. She stressed that faith leaders should demonstrate to the faith community that HIV is still present and does not need or deserve stigma. Further, she called on faith leaders to share positive messages, such as preaching sermons about the importance of testing and treatment, in order to prevent discrimination within their communities.
During the dialogue, participants addressed the realities of how stigma and discrimination are perpetuated both in religious communities and society at large. Fr. Paul Alvares, heading the Conference of Religious of India – Goa Chapter, assured to bring various heads of religious congregations in Goa and seek their engagements towards a joint collaboration to end HIV in Goa by 2030 with engagement and dialogue with the government.
An adolescent living with HIV also recounted her experiences when she and her other friends were discriminated and expelled from the school in 2014. She shared her journey as to how they had to undergo through several challenges to overcome that situation and called to end discrimination against children living with HIV.
Participants affirmed in their concluding statement the “renewed sense of urgency” to prioritize and strengthen the response to HIV. They pledged to commit themselves to strengthened efforts to respond to HIV in Goa, which includes acting decisively to protect human rights through collaboration and by influencing local and national decision-making processes on HIV.
A memorial service was conducted by team of Human Touch Foundation to honor, support, and advocate for those who have been affected by the global HIV epidemic.
Human Touch Foundation has representation in Global HIV Strategy Group and International Reference Group of Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity.