A letter from the Presiding Bishop regarding a day of prayer for people with HIV/AIDS

September 13, 2002

Dear Friends in Christ,

More than twenty years ago we proclaimed that “Our Church Has AIDS” in recognition of the reality that when any part of the Body of Christ is afflicted, the entire Body is afflicted. Twenty-two years later, HIV/AIDS is still very much with us.

One of the earliest responses of the Episcopal Church to the AIDS crisis was to engage in prayer for those infected and affected. We proclaimed national days of prayer. Yet in the early days and even into the present, we are often asked why we pray specifically for those with HIV/AIDS. We are asked why a particular illness gets singled out when there are so many other illnesses for which we should offer prayers for healing.

Clearly all forms of illness and disease are worthy of our prayers. The unfortunate reality of HIV/AIDS in 2002, just as it was over twenty two years ago, is that this illness carries with it stigma rarely associated with diseases in modern times. Those with AIDS can be fired from their jobs simply because they have AIDS. Those with AIDS can be evicted from housing, and denied insurance and medical care just because they have AIDS. Those with AIDS are ostracized just because of their illness. Illness alone prompts us to pray for healing. The issues of stigma call us to a deeper level of prayer to turn hearts from fear to love.

The majority of those infected with HIV in this country and around the world are people of color. A significant percentage of those infected continue to be gay men. Many of those infected already live in poverty and lack resources to combat the disease. Ignorance about prevention insures that the virus will continue to spread. Lack of funding for research and medicines creates a bleak picture for the future. The reasons we began to pray over two decades ago are still with us: The Body of Christ is still afflicted by this disease and we, as part of that Body, are still afflicted.

Prayer is a continuing necessity. I urge you to set aside a day of prayer for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our church calendar offers us several days appropriate for such prayers: September 9 is the feast of Constance and her companions, the Martyrs of Memphis. October 18 is the feast of St. Luke the physician and healer. Those days or the Sundays nearest them provide opportunity for remembrance. In addition, December 1 is World AIDS Day on the secular calendar, another appropriate opportunity.

Please join me in prayer for those afflicted by HIV/AIDS. Let us always remember that the One whose body we have become has already borne our afflictions and carried our sorrows. We should do no less.

Yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

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