‘Unconventional’ Montana Priest Receives Award for AIDS Ministry
Fr. Thomas Beggin, an "unconventional" priest from Billings, Mont., who founded the support group AIDSpirit Montana, received the Lumina Award from the National Catholic AIDS Network last month for his work with HIV/AIDS patients and their families, the Billings Gazette reports. The award, presented July 23 in Chicago, is given to one man and one woman for "creative and compassionate response in ministering" to those with HIV/AIDS. Beggin, who was left with little speech capability after he suffered ruptured blood vessels in his brain in 1994, mainly uses sign language to communicate and relies on listening for his ministry. "Love your neighbor, that's all," he said, explaining his philosophy for helping people with AIDS. When it began in 1994, Beggin's organization was "greeted with suspicion" by the HIV/AIDS community because of the Catholic Church's stance against homosexuality. But it has grown to a membership of more than 50, with 16 HIV-positive members. Supporters attribute the organization's success to Beggin's personal philosophy, as he "despises labels and divisive dogma." Beggin's new focus is on Africa. "I have to do more work now. We can do more. In Montana, we have food, the house, we're pretty good. ... We could help them," he said, referring to Africans. He has begun organizing a funding drive in Billings for Africans affected by HIV/AIDS, selling off some of his possessions and asking parishioners for support. So far his efforts have helped send 17 orphans to school, but he says he is not satisfied. He is currently working with local youth groups to raise money to fight AIDS in Africa. "Do not let my gentleness belie the fierce dedication and energy with which I fight against the discrimination, isolation and stigmatization of those living with the disease. I continue to dream," he said when he accepted his award last month (Hagengruber, Billings Gazette, 8/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.