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RGOD2: Celebrating another breakthrough for Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Uganda was in Rome the week before Maxensia Nakibuuka arrived to attend the Catholic lay community of Sant Egidio annual conference in October. When he returned from Rome, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga invited Maxensia (who is also Secretary to the Council of the Laity) to coordinate this year’s World AIDS Day commemoration on Sunday, Dec. 1.

The church’s change of attitude towards LGBT people, led by Pope Francis, is undoubtedly having a global impact, even in places where the faith community has historically pushed for greater punishment and even criminalization, like in Uganda. For the past four years, the faith community in Uganda has been embroiled in a culture war against the LGBT community and the recent statements by the Pope to be more inclusive in the church’s pastoral response to LGBT people has been heard most of all by the country’s Catholic leadership. The Church has 13 million members in Uganda and a network of schools, hospitals and clinics, so the Archbishop’s invitation for dialogue and to discover ways the church can serve the most marginalized is a tangible step where Pope Francis reforms are being heard.

When I spoke to Maxensia by phone this week she had this to say:

“Within the short time Good Samaritan Consortium (14 organizations working with LGBT. MSM, IV Drug Users and sex workers) has been established it has recorded tremendous achievements , not only as members working together to build a strong voice or scale up in the work that they have been doing. Also, a lot of emphasis has been on system training within the Consortium by strengthening networks and building new partnerships. What is outstanding is the Consortium and its networks have been working hard to build a relationship with the Catholic Church. This will be the first time Worlds AIDS Day is commemorated in the Diocese. I was personally requested by the Archbishop to organize the entire event. I could not do it alone and that is why the Consortium members have been instrumental in getting it done, and we hope it goes well. This success is a result of our clear and forthright communications with the church and demonstrating how our organizations can provide services to the marginalized.”

San Diego nurse witnesses the historic changes

San Diego resident JP Conly, who is volunteering as a nurse this month in Uganda, expressed his gratitude to Maxensia and the Consortium and shared some poignant moments where he saw real progress.

“I had the opportunity to see the results of the Good Samaritan Consortium in the Sensitization and Stigmatization reduction training. Prosciovia Matovu (who is the head of the Catholic Good Samaritans of Kasanga Church) stated that she is now seeing a change in the attitudes of these people towards the marginalized which includes the LGBT community. I attended a meeting this week with the Good Samaritans and they welcomed me with open arms," Conly said.

“In addition I had another great opportunity to meet the Archbishop and the Vicar General, Msgr. John Katende. In our meeting with them I thanked them for welcoming the GSC and all their members to the first all-inclusive World AIDS Day. The Vicar General made the statement: ‘We will not discriminate.’

"I am so fortunate to be a part of this big change in the Church, and I never thought I would see this day. It is also a privilege and I am honored to be a bridge bringing communities together. As a nurse it is important to see that the health care of people will be greatly benefitted when the stigma and discrimination of the marginalized has been erased,” Conly said.

Maxensia’s World AIDS Day Concept Note to the Archbishop

“The Catholic Church in Uganda has a long history of provision of HIV treatment in its network of facilities throughout the country. However, community based outreach and mobilization — outside of health facilities — has not been prioritized in Uganda by the Catholic Church. The work of the Catholic Church is specific faith client centered and does therefore not benefit as many people despite the diversity of resources at its exposure, leaving its capacity at a limited scale. This is a missed opportunity that can begin to be rectified through a renewed commitment launched on World AIDS Day, with key civil society members, policymakers, people living with HIV, the media and other allies. This commitment should not be a one-time statement only—but should extend well beyond World AIDS Day to become a sustainable project that can stand the test of time in the endeavor to reach zero HIV new infections and zero HIV deaths in Uganda.”

Church linkages with other international partners to upscale services to get to “zero”

“The Church ought to have gone beyond its institutional boundaries like the Catholic Schools, Churches, Hospitals, and Seminaries to networking and linking with other local and international organizations and bodies like the Civil Society Organizations, National Governments, Development Agencies, Corporate bodies and other faith based organizations in order to increase its capacity of providing HIV/AIDS services to not only the catholic community but to all people in need of HIV/AIDS services in the country. However, this would require as well, strengthening and supporting the Good Samaritan Institution of the Church and also mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS services in the Church’s structures right from the small basic Christian community (Kabondo), through the village chapels, the Lower Pastoral Councils, to the Archdiocesan Councils in order to make it a priority on the agenda of the services the Church offers to its faithful.”

Specific Recommendations for World AIDS Day and beyond

“The Catholic Church should launch on World AIDS Day an initiative to provide community based patient support and follow up, as well as clientele linkage in order to reduce loss to follow up, increase treatment adherence, increase mobilization for prevention and care services, and improve the quality of care. This can be achieved through a formal and practice based bilateral relationship between the Church and Civil Society grassroots organizations directly involved in the provision of HIV/AIDS services.

“The Catholic Church should call on the Government of Uganda, donors and other partners to increase and fulfill their commitments to the fight in Uganda, such as through expanded funding—including through an AIDS support strategy e.g. commitment of a percentages of each government Ministries’ budget to the HIV/AIDS fight. The Church can also call on other leaders to fight stigma and discrimination including the encouragement of other Faith based organizations to get involved through institutions like the Inter Religious Council, the Episcopal Conference and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa on top of leading by example. The Church should also introduce HIV/AIDS focal points and counseling desks in every Parish where Pastoral Counseling can be accessed by those in need of the services.”

Helping the cause

St. Paul’s Foundation, based here in San Diego, continues to support the important groundbreaking work of Maxensia and the Consortium. Her video is a powerful testimony to what has been achieved when people living with HIV themselves have the medicine and support to make a difference and build important bridges in divided communities.

You may like to join us for an end of year gift or to pledge support in 2014.l

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE RGOD2 appears on SDGLN and GLBTNN.