[Lambeth Palace] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has paid tribute to Reverend Canon Dr Gideon Byamugisha, for his pioneering work helping African communities to overcome the suffering of HIV and AIDS.
In a ceremony at Lambeth Palace today, Archbishop Rowan awarded the Cross of St Augustine to the Ugandan priest, who in 1992 was the first African religious leader to openly declare his HIV-positive status.
The Archbishop called Reverend Byamugisha “a beacon of hope whose energy and joy have been an inspiration to be alongside.”
A theologian, pastor, teacher and activist, the Reverend Byamugisha has transformed the HIV response of churches in the Anglican Communion, and influenced many other Christian and other faith communities throughout Africa and around the world.
The Archbishop said that Dr Byamugisha’s work has brought hope and galvanized action in communities through information, innovative prevention strategies, care and support. He has focused tirelessly on “ending denial, misinformation, stigma and discrimination on HIV within and beyond the Church.”
“Few individuals have taken so many risks and ventured so far beyond their own faith to help those living with HIV and AIDS,” he said.
“He has been an inspiration, not just to me but to the whole Anglican communion and beyond.”
The Archbishop noted that during his recent trip to Papua New Guinea he saw how “the whole issue of AIDS is tied up with gender violence and inequality around the world.”
How the Church responds is “a Gospel question”, he said.
Reverend Byamugisha has played a pivotal role in a number of church and United Nations contexts. He has engaged with faith-based agencies, including theChurchofUganda’s AIDS programme, the Uganda AIDS Commission, Christian Aid, World Vision International, and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.
The charismatic Canon has also spoken at special UN conferences, and founded the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA).
“Throughout this work he has focused on the unique value of each human being in the sight of God,” said the Archbishop.
Archbishop Rowan praised Reverend Byamugisha for his “extraordinary courage and vision” in turning his personal experience into a ministry which has “touched the lives of countless thousands.”
Reverend Byamugisha said: “I’m accepting this cross not just for myself, but on behalf of all the people who have supported me, nursed me, and inspired me to do more and be better.”
In a moving exchange, Reverend Byamugisha paid tribute to the Archbishop’s spiritual leadership. “I want to be like him,” he said.
“It’s entirely mutual,” replied the Archbishop.