Cecilia Bromley-Martin investigates some of the Church’s joint Aids awareness and NFP projects in Africa which are being supported by Aid to the Church in Need.
It is a much-pedaled but dangerous illusion that a limitless availability of condoms will halt the ever-increasing spread of Aids. In fact, the little known truth is that there is up to a 27 per cent risk of becoming infected with Aids every time a condom is used in sexual intercourse with someone carrying the virus. Yet although condoms so often fail to protect, at the same time they serve to convince those most at risk that they are safe to continue in their current lifestyle.
It seems that today more than ever we are in need of the Church’s wisdom and teaching on love and sexuality. And now, after years of being widely ignored, sidelined or misrepresented, its value is gradually being recognised in increasing areas of Africa.
Chastity before marriage and faithfulness within it - these are the only sure protection against HIV and Aids, the scourge of the 21st century. This is the simple and deeply moral truth that the development aid section of Zambia’s archdiocese of Kasama has set itself the task of putting over, where for 15 years trained staff have been working to promote the family and health. And now – in addition to the prevention of Aids – they are giving seminars on natural family planning.
“We are doing our best to introduce methods of family planning approved by the Church,” explained Archbishop James Spaita of Kasama, adding that his staff are doing “wonderful work in a situation where our media advertise artificial methods for family planning.” Over 150 couples have so far taken part in the NFP seminars; now they are passing on what they have learnt. In this way the Church is promoting harmony and unselfish understanding between spouses, imparting knowledge on child-spacing, and educating couples to adopt a healthy lifestyle which should help them avoid Aids.
For no other continent on earth has so many victims of this devastating virus, and Zambia is not the only country where Catholics have taken the initiative in combating Aids: more and more, the Church in Africa is being recognised as a source of life-changing knowledge, and the courses provided by priests, sisters and catechists are vital in helping the people - not only to fight the disease - but to understand the enormous and wide-ranging benefits of natural family planning.
In South Africa, an estimated 20 per cent of the population in the north-eastern Tzaneen diocese are HIV-positive, with as many as 250,000 orphans the indirect victims of this plague in the country. Now the diocese is planning to hold a five-day workshop in order to raise awareness among its priests, religious and lay catechists about the disease, its consequences and above all its prevention. It is hoped that those participating can then pass on their knowledge to others in their day-to-day pastoral work.
It is in this way that Catholic projects are educating youth, enriching marriages and saving lives in Africa, not just for the people of Kasama and Tzaneen, but in parts of Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania... As one local Bishop told Aid to the Church in Need, “people very much look to the Churches to bring some hope and compassion and truth to people as they really struggle to make some sense of this frightening and deadly and shameful disease.” Free condoms and free love are no longer enough, they are seeking both the Christian response to Aids - care for the afflicted - but also the Christian approach to its prevention: upholding the dignity of each person.
1) ACN has now granted the diocese almost £10,000 for the purchase of books, teaching materials and computer hardware and software.
2) Aid to the Church in Need has agreed to contribute £3,700 towards this initiative.