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SOUTHAFRICA-AIDS Jan-31-2011 (540 words) xxxi

Archbishop: Africa's AIDS epidemic bares 'poverty of moral thinking'

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Noting that AIDS is a primarily an African problem, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference criticized the "poverty of moral thinking in Africa" and dependency on "American-European thinking" in developing solutions to a growing epidemic of the disease.

AIDS "is a disease Africa shares with gay people in Europe and North America," Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg told his fellow bishops Jan. 25 at the start of a nine-day plenary meeting in Pretoria.

Jummai Robo, 30, sits in the women's ward of Our Lady of Apostles Hospital in Akwanga, Nigeria, in September. She was abandoned by her husband when it was discovered she had contracted the virus that leads to AIDS. The 70-bed Catholic-run hospital in a rural farming community treats nearly 1,500 people with antiretroviral therapy, the life-saving drug regimen for patients with HIV. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

"When Europe thinks about moral issues around HIV and AIDS, they think of gay people. In Africa, we think about millions of ordinary men, women and youth," he said.

UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, estimated that about 5.6 million South Africans had HIV or AIDS in 2009. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region of the world most heavily affected by HIV worldwide, accounting for 67 percent of all people living with the disease and for about 72 percent of AIDS-related deaths in 2009, according to the United Nations.

"It is high time we challenged our moral theologians to assess the moral challenges of HIV and AIDS," Archbishop Tlhagale said. He called upon the bishops' conference to "invest in the training of moral theologians in a more systematic fashion."

"Cynics would say, 'What more is there to think about? We have the Ten Commandments!' We have a duty not to allow the imaginative genius of the human spirit to stagnate or die," he said.

Archbishop Tlhagale also spoke of the need for morality in order to build compassionate human communities.

"Government can only do so much," he said.

The archbishop challenged southern African church leaders "to invest resources and time" to address the development of a moral society.

The countries represented by the conference, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, are "developing democracies" that are "politically stable, but fragile," Archbishop Tlhagale said.

"To varying degrees, they are characterized by graft, violent crimes, corruption, the serious lack of service delivery and self-enrichment by those in positions of responsibility," he said.

Noting that South Africa's "jails are overflowing with prisoners," Archbishop Tlhagale said that to most citizens "the promises of democracy and rule of law are not only dreams that have failed but ... a reminder of the painful experiences of the (apartheid) past."

With "our materialistic society" promoting the rights of individuals to accumulate wealth, "Christian principles of fairness, equality and justice have fallen by the wayside," he said.

Charging that the rich "have have become incapable of postponing their own personal interests," Archbishop Tlhagale said society as a whole has failed to raise up "those who have a greater need."

"What is missing in the public spaces of our societies is the voice of the Catholic Church that genuinely seeks to engage the public on moral-ethical issues which impinge on the society at large," he said.

Archbishop Tlhagale also said the bishops' conference must develop a mechanism that will ensure that the results of "groundbreaking conferences and documents," such as the 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa, are systematically discussed and implemented.

"Unless we have a way of monitoring implementation, we run the risk of reinventing the same ideas every few years," he said.


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