LONDON – The head of the third largest Christian denomination in the world is reaching out to churches with a message of hope to be brave, imaginative and honest in the face of the global HIV and AIDS pandemic.
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams' message of encouragement was prepared ahead of this Saturday's World Aids Day. It marks the first time that the Anglican head's message was made available in video format on the internet.
In his message, Williams praised the active engagement and dedication of churches in the global response to HIV and sharply criticized the limited access to drugs and treatment in some of the poorest parts of the world as "a scandal."
"It is important that we do not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by this challenge; people do not have to die – drugs and treatment are available – the scandal is that access is so often limited and it is hard to see where justice lies in the way resources are sometimes distributed," he stated.
Williams also stressed that governments needed to be challenged to work effectively with faith-based organizations.
He paid tribute to charities like U.K.-based Tearfund and Christian Aid, which are partnering with Christians and churches on the ground in Africa and other parts of the world struggling with AIDS to raise awareness, break down stigma, promote education and provide care to those affected by the condition.
The Anglican leader also acknowledged, however, that the Church had not always tried its best to care for those living with HIV.
"The churches have not always challenged as they should the stigma that is attached to HIV and AIDS in many countries," he said, also noting that they "have failed to say that those living with HIV and AIDS are God's beloved children, with dignity, liberty and freedom."
"What is owed to them is what is owed to any human being made in God's image," Williams continued, "and the more we are trapped by thoughts and images about stigma, the less we shall be able to respond effectively."
The archbishop's short video message was produced in association with Christian humanitarian agency Tearfund and features 13-year-old Rachel, just one of a million AIDS orphans in Uganda. Although so young, Rachel has since the age of eight been the single parent of a household which includes six younger siblings and demands a daily routine of cooking, cleaning and growing food for the family.
The film is included in a Tearfund DVD pack – Bring Childhood Back to Life – which was released earlier in the week. The pack talks about the work that Tearfund is doing to help children orphaned by AIDS find back something of a childhood, particularly through providing an education, nutritious food, medicine and spiritual care in a loving church.
"If I didn't have the pastor, it would be terrible for me," says Rachel. "When my parents died, I realized I'm left alone and as the eldest I have to look after the younger ones."
The Bring Childhood Back to Life DVD pack is suitable for churches and small groups and contains a detailed booklet full of facts and figures relating to those orphaned by AIDS, as well as useful quotes, prayer and how churches can get further involved with Tearfund's work in this area.
On the Web: The message on the Archbishop's website – www.archbishopofcanterbury.org
Further information about the work of Tearfund with the global Church at www.tearfund.org.