Editorial: HIV-AIDS in Oceania

Michael McCabe
Issue 18, April 2006

Jesus recognition and inclusion, to the point of table-fellowship, of the poor and excluded provides the model for Christian ministry to people with AIDS-HIV the compassionate reception of deprived human others is at the heart of Jesus' ministry.

--Enda McDonagh

One of the blessings of my ministry as Director of The Nathaniel Centre has been the invitation to work in partnership with Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Caritas Australia to help to address the challenge of HIV-AIDS in Oceania. While I had some awareness of the enormity of the problem of AIDS [Acquired Immunodaficiency Syndrome] among particelar communities, and in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa, I was quite ignorant of the extent of HIV-AIDS in Oceania. Consequently, in 2000, when Bishop Peter Cullinane passed on to me a request from the Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands for assistance in dealing with the theological and pastoral issues associated with HIV-AIDS, I embarked on a learning experience which was to have a profound effect on me personally.

The then Director of Caritas in New Zealand, Anne Dickinson, who had been to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands a number of times as part of her work, encouraged me to respond to this request and offered Caritas support for the project. With Anne's help a seminar was developed, making use of the material provided by English Caritas agency, CAFOD, a leader in HIV-AIDS work in the developing world, together with research carried out by the staff of The Nathaniel Centre on the theological issues and on the pastoral issues in Oceania.

The seminar entitled, A Theological and Pastoral Response to HIV-AIDS in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, was held at Goroka in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea February 2001 and attended by twenty-two bishops and four religious sisters involved in HIV-AIDS work. Two fur'her seminars have since been presented in Kiribati [2003] and Tonga [2005].

The profound gift that these seminars have been lead me to believe that I was not alone in my limited awareness of AIDS in Oceania even though this disease is much closer to home and even though it represents a singular challenge for the Church in Oceania. Because HIV-AIDS is the biggest challenge that the Church in Oceania currently faces we have made this issue of The Nathaniel Report a themed issue on HIV-AIDS.

Geneva-based Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS to Caritas Internationalis Father Robert Vitillo has gifted us with the keynote article to this edition an edited version of his Pacem in Terris Lecture given at Georgetown University, Washington, USA, in October 2005. In his lecture Father Vitillo beautifully illustrates two of the central themes in this year's Lenten Message of Pope Benedict XVI, namely, that integral human development is necessarily holistic and necessarily compassionate. Pope Benedict says, Enlightened by this Paschal truth, the Church knows that if we are to promote development in its fullness, our own 'gaze' upon mankind has to be measured against that of Christ. In fact, it is quite impossible to separate the response to people's material and social needs from the fulfilment of the profound desires of their hearts.

Our response to those with HIV-AIDS will depend upon our vision of Christian morality. Morality that is based on abstract notions of the good is inadequate for the task. The Christian vision of morality is located within relationship relationship with God, relationship with the self and relationship with others. We are particular persons in a particular time with particular relationships. Our history, our story, our culture, shapes how we see God, how we see others, and how we see ourselves. All these factors shape our moral vision and our response to AIDS.

The heart of our response to HIV-AIDS, and indeed to all human development, is compassion the compassion of Christ for all no matter what their condition. In his Apostolic Letter on Human Suffering [1984:n.28] Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II wrote: The parable of the Good Samaritan belongs to the Gospel of suffering. For it indicates what the relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbour. We are not allowed to 'pass by on the other side' indifferently; we must 'stop' beside him. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. It is like the opening of a certain interior disposition of the heart, which also has an emotional expression of its own.

When a member of the Body of Christ has HIV-AIDS then, in a very real sense, the entire Body of Christ has HIV-AIDS. To understand this is equally to understand the new pastoral and theological challenges that HIV-AIDS is bringing to the Body of Christ in Oceania and internationally. While these challenges call for fresh theological and pastoral approaches they also call us to return to our traditional fonts of moral and pastoral wisdom and view them from a fresh perspective. That is precisely the challenge that Jesus provides for the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He encourages him to revisit the law and religious traditions of his people in a spirit of compassion so that he can once more become a neighbour to the man in need.

In this Paschal Season when we once again reflect on the depth of God the Father's compassion in Christ we are left are left in no doubt that compassion must shape our response to HIV-AIDS.


Rev Michael McCabe, PhD
The Nathaniel Centre