Father Paul Bacarimane, hospital chaplain, Thies, Senegal
HOW DO YOU COUNSEL PEOPLE LIVING WITH AIDS?
With people living with HIV and AIDS we try to travel the road together, as companions. There are several roles: First of all, to help people accept their situation; to help them find their way to the essence of life, because whether one is in good health or bad health the essential is to return to God and to always go toward God.
Our role as priests, above all, is to help people to talk about their situation. Not to blame others, but to reconcile with themselves& reconcile themselves with others&and reconcile themselves with God.
We look after a good 30 people, whom we visit in their homes. Some of them are in an advanced state of the disease; others are in the final phase. Some are in hospitals, where we keep track of them, here in Thies at the Regional Hospital and here at St. Jean.
HOW DOES THE STIGMA AFFECT PEOPLE?
What I have seen is, among the patients I work with, some of them have been accepted, and have had the courage to speak of it in certain circles. That has really helped them because they were accepted and there wasnt any stigmatization at that point.
WHAT IS THE BEST WORD YOU CAN GIVE TO THEM?
I see that what people who live with AIDS, need the most is to know that you love them. The love that comes from God, the love that comes from people, the love that comes from themselves.
When someone senses that, no matter what their situation, no matter what their physical condition, they are loved and are capable of loving and all that brings with itto be forgiven and to forgive-- &that is what I would put first.
Otherwise, the word of Hope. Because I think that that is the message of the Church. To announce hope to all people, no matter what their religion, no matter what their situation, without stigma, without condemnation. Put hope right up front. It gives us the reason to live.
JESUS WOULD HAVE SAID?
Jesus would have said to all people with the virus, I came to bring life and that means to fight against whatever destroys life.
But one who has peace inside them--physical peace, spiritual peace, economic peacethey have Life.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH ROLE?
I think that the word of the church is the word of the Gospelto call humankind to hope. Not a passive hope; but a responsible hope. Confronted with the scourge of AIDS, we must not despair. We have to believe that one day God will give us a solution.
But the solution wont come from heavenit wont be a telephone call from the Good Lord. It will be man feeling responsibility for his acts. Living in faithfulness, living in abstinence. I believe that is the word of the Gospel and of hope.
HOW DO PEOPLE REACT WHEN THEY LEARN THEY ARE HIVPOSITIVE?
In my experience I have seen three types of reactions when people get HIV: First there are those who rebel. They are mad at society, they are mad at themselves, mad at whoever gave them the virus. That is the first case.
Second case is a mature reaction. It has happened. I dont know how. I will face the music. I am responsible for this.
The third case is when a person knows they have the virus but continues to live out sexual relations without precaution&even with the idea of passing on the virus, to pass on death. Thats dramatic&and painful for us who counsel people, because we are bound to confidentiality.
WHY IS THE RATE IN SENEGAL SO LOW?
Senegals rate may be because we got an early start. People talked about it. There are religious factors, cultural factors, family factors.
WHAT ABOUT ATTITUDES?
Someone who is rich can do anything he wants, whatever he wants, even to the detriment of the others. That is true. But there is also a social phenomenon, among the youth especially. We have made the sexual act into nothing. With prophylactics freely available, people can make love with whomever they please. Condoms arent completely safe and arent the real way to overcome this virus.
WHAT ORGANIZATIONS ARE FIGHTING HIV/AIDS?
AIDS Service is here. It is an organization of the church. Our job is to fight AIDS, by awareness raising, by education, the spread of AIDS.
HOW DO CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS DIFFER?
The grand difference in the point of view (of Christians and Muslims) that it is difficult to speak of faithfulness in a polygamous marriage. Christians are not polygamous. Thus, to speak of fidelity is in a Muslim family is much more sensitive than to speak of it in a Christian family. That is one of the nuances.
I think we are clear. One of the ways most safe for people is to abstain. Whether they are Christian or Muslim.
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