Over 250 students gathered together at St Joseph’s church in Basingstoke last Wednesday to mark World AIDS Day with a special Mass celebrated by Father Mark Hogan. Pupils from Bishop Challoner and guests from Farnborough Hill, St Peter’s in Bournemouth and St Augustine’s gathered together to reflect on the 33 million people living with HIV worldwide and the 10 million still in need of treatment who do not have access.
The Mass, organised by School Chaplain, Jill Kiddle and School Librarian Virginia O’Kelly featured special readings reminding us that we were all part of the one body of Christ (1Corinthians 12: 12-26) and if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. So, we in turn, as Father Mark pointed out in his homily, are affected by the plight of others around the world.
The Gospel of the Good Samaritan then underlined the importance of caring for our neighbour both near and far.
The bidding prayers featured the story of Jhupri in India who, just two years ago, was losing her battle with HIV. But fortunately the volunteer facilitators working with people living with HIV in her area came to her aid and helped her access antiretroviral treatment. Her health has started to improve but this is dependent on her maintaining a proper diet which she finds increasingly difficult to do due to the scarcity of food.
At the offertory, 5 candles were taken up to the altar to represent the five continents of the world – and as each one was lit, a special prayer was said (based on the order of worship produced by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance www.e-alliance.ch)
‘God of the desert places, be with those who wait,
Queuing for water and food
Watching their little children losing energy to play,
Looking for rain, for work and health and harvest,
In their time of waiting, be their hearts’ courage
And their souls’ hope; make their desert bloom.’
The Mass ended with an invitation to all pupils to take action for the 400,000 children who become infected with HIV every year. The vast majority of these children get passed the virus when they are born or when breast feeding.
Pupils were invited to consider putting their names to a special letter, calling on Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development in our own government to contribute the UK’s fair share (£840 million) to the Global Fund that fights AIDS, TB and malaria. (To put this amount into context, £820 million of food will be thrown away at Christmas in the UK over the same period).
The Global Fund has a strong record of results in tackling AIDS, TB and Malaria and since 2002 it has saved nearly six million lives across the three diseases. However, recently it has been dangerously under-funded, putting the aim of delivering universal access and ensuring all children are born free from HIV by 2015 out of reach. Names of pupils were collected during the last hymn.
Our thanks go to Father Mark, the fantastic choir, the musicians, the readers, all the staff and of course, all the pupils who took part – especially those from other schools who travelled a fair distance to take part. Thank you too to Jill and Virginia for once again organising another very moving Mass on this special day.
You can take part in the stop aids campaign by emailing Andrew Mitchell at http://stopaidscampaign.org/