Catholics, Jews put aside differences in AIDS fight

A high level meeting in South Africa, one of the world's countries hardest hit by the AIDS crisis, has united Vatican and world Jewish leaders in a call for international action against the pandemic.

The International Herald Tribune reports that world Catholic and Jewish leaders met in Cape Town on Tuesday to discuss Jewish and Catholic perspectives on health care with special reference to HIV/AIDS.

"No modern plague has afflicted as much death as HIV/AIDS. We wanted to look at ways Jewish and Catholic communities could be a source of blessing and healing," Rabbi David Rosen said following the first meeting in Africa of the International Jewish Catholic Liaison Committee, a key interfaith gathering.

The committee established by the Vatican through the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry is headed by the president of the commission Cardinal Walter Kasper and Rabbi Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations, the representative body of world Jewry.

The meeting was attended by leading cardinals and rabbis, including Archbishop Lawrence Henry and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier from South Africa as well as the Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger and the Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein.

A joint declaration issued at the end of the meeting, addressed the plight of AIDS orphans and the role of religious leaders in addressing the pandemic, which is particularly prevalent in southern Africa.

"While recognising that our respective traditions may differ regarding possible preventative strategies with respect to HIV/AIDS and related afflictions, we unreservedly unite in calling for unrestricted palliative care and appropriate attention for all those suffering, threatened or victimized by this tragic pandemic.

"This call goes out especially to government and all who have the power, means and influence to implement it," the statement said.

The Church, which opposes the use of condoms as a contraception, is divided over calls for the church to permit condoms in the fight against AIDS, particularly when one partner in a marriage has the virus, the Herald Tribune says.

Rosen, said Jewish ethical teaching allowed for the use of condom if "marital relations were life-threatening", although it disapproves of them as a form of contraception.

"Where the Catholic Church has a strong emphasis on family, loyalty and chastity, we say these values are important but that there are people who are infected not because of a lack of loyalty or morality," he said.

The declaration released by the meeting said the "reality of millions of orphans, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, was seen as a pressing call for greater attention on the part of the international community aimed at enabling the economic and social development of the countries involved."

The meeting called for religious leaders to take a role in education, treatment, care for those affected by AIDS as well as the "need to eliminate" the stigma associated with the disease.

In another story, Kenyan Catholic bishops will release the Church's national policy on AIDS, All Africa reports.

The document "aims to encourage and fortify Kenyan Catholics, Christians and Muslims and believers from other faiths, to unite in the fight against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS," a statement from a task force that prepared the Church policy said.

The policy specifies the stand and role of the Church in dealing with HIV/Aids and gives details of those involved within the Church in fighting the pandemic, the statement said.

The latest edition of Kenya Catholic Directory lists over 140 special centres run by the Church countrywide to provide care for vulnerable groups, amongst them HIV/AIDS victims.

A national Catholic Aids conference is proposed for 2007 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bishops' first message on Aids in 1987.

World Catholic and Jewish leaders meeting in South Africa unite against AIDS (International Herald Tribune, 8/11/06)
Kenya: Kenya - Catholic Church to Launch National Policy On HIV/Aids (AllAfrica, 8/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews
Meetings of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (Centre for Christian-Jewish Learning (Boston College)

Pope tells rabbi of Church's love for Jews (CathNews, 18/1/06)
Ugandan president calls church to back condom use (CathNews, 16/6/05)
Pope recalled for building bridge with Jews and Israel (CathNews, 4/4/05)
Pope calls attention to AIDS in developing world (CathNews, 24/1/05)

9 Nov 2006