Buffalo, N.Y., Minister Undergoes Public HIV Test, Urges Congregation To Be Tested
In the first "mass HIV testing" in the United States to take place in a church setting, a Buffalo, N.Y., minister on Sunday underwent a public HIV test and invited his congregation to also be tested for the virus, the Buffalo News reports. More than 700 members of the True Bethel Baptist Church watched Rev. Darius Pridgen receive an HIV test during the 9 a.m. service on Sunday. After the church's two morning services, more than 105 congregation members went for an HIV test at a school located next door to True Bethel. The HIV testing drive was part of the church's "Breakthrough Sunday," which included a variety of HIV/AIDS education efforts. Approximately 40 HIV/AIDS educators and service providers from nine agencies and organizations -- including outreach groups and government agencies -- distributed HIV prevention and sex education information and "presented information that promoted the church's message of abstinence," the Buffalo News reports. Pridgen also told young people during his sermon to not "confuse love with sex," adding, "Once you catch [HIV], you don't just get rid of it. Do not let yourselves die for a few minutes of pleasure."
Spurring Change Among Black Churches in Buffalo
The majority of True Bethel's congregation is African-American, and AIDS advocates said that they hoped Pridgen's example would prompt other African-American churches to speak out about HIV/AIDS. "We applaud the efforts of Pridgen to open his doors to such a controversial subject. We hope African-American churches will take their rightful place in the fight against AIDS and start leading support groups and advocacy efforts," Ken Smith, a program coordinator at GROUP Ministries, which organized Breakthrough Sunday, said. More than 5,000 Buffalo-area residents are HIV-positive, and nearly 3,000 of them are black. Black women represent 62% of the 249 women diagnosed with AIDS last year in Buffalo. African-American men comprised 50% of the 971 men in Buffalo diagnosed with AIDS last year. Eight other Buffalo churches are planning similar HIV testing days, and the True Bethel ministry plans to make the testing drive a biannual event, Smith said. Smith stated that in the African-American community, the church has been "a mecca for change" and can play a key role in educating African Americans about HIV/AIDS and decreasing the stigma of the disease (Thomas, Buffalo News, 11/25).
Catholics Urged To Observe World AIDS Day
The National Catholic AIDS Network and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committees for Hispanic Affairs and for African-American Catholics have sent a letter to 17,000 Catholic parishes urging churchgoers on World AIDS Day to focus on AIDS education and compassionate care for people living with HIV/AIDS. "Live and Let Live" is the theme of this year's World AIDS Day. "Stigma and discrimination are daily facts of life, and are obstacles to addressing the real issues of the disease," Ronaldo Cruz, director of the USCCB Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs, said. Beverly Carroll, director of the USCCB Secretariat for African-American Catholics, added that the committees "have made serious efforts to develop theologically and culturally appropriate resources that show compassion to people living with HIV/AIDS" (USCCB Web site, 11/25).
Catholic Group Praises Bishop for Condom Support
In related news, Catholics for a Free Choice yesterday "praise[d]" Kevin Dowling, bishop of Rustenburg, South Africa, for speaking out against the Catholic Church's ban on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. CFFC has also launched an international postcard campaign in which public supporters of Dowling are asked to send him a pre-printed postcard stating, "Thank you, Bishop Dowling, for showing compassion, leadership, courage and good sense in the fight against HIV/AIDS." Frances Kissling, CFFC president, said that "Bishop Dowling reminds us that the hierarchy's ban [on condoms] is not monolithic, there is a plurality of views in the church on the use of condoms and that change is achievable." Kissling added, "The fact remains that bishops who continue to support the ban on condoms show a continued disregard for the sanctity of human life that is the antithesis of this year's theme for World AIDS Day: 'Live and Let Live'" (CFFC release, 11/25).