Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Radical inclusion: The AIDS Mass in LA

Dr Primrose pointed us to this article in the LA Times about the annual mass by the LA Diocese for those living with, and those dead from HIV: AIDS Mass a barometer of medical, societal changes. The article tells us that when it started, people living with, or dying from HIV were rejected from churches and even their funerals were banned.
More than anything, though, the church gave those touched by the disease an opportunity to mourn, said Canon Randolph Kimmler, who serves as an advisor in the diocese to those joining the clergy. A swath of gay men seemingly vanished, dying sometimes within weeks of the onset of symptoms. And families would often bar partners and gay friends from funerals, if they even had a service at all, in an effort to cloak the shame of having a relative die of what was known as a "gay disease," he said.

"A lot of churches wouldn't hold funerals for AIDS patients…. It was looked upon as something you deserve — it was a really weird time," Kimmler, 62, said. "Those of us who went and organized it felt courageous. We felt the church was courageous."
Yes, very much so.

I think we tend to forget how this epidemic was viewed by the mainstream: a "gay plague", a comeuppance for the sin of being homosexual, a modern leprosy. And then there was the LA Diocese, making a whole Mass for Those People. That radical inclusion again. Clearly prophetic in retrospect, but I wonder what the response was at the time, when the church was opened to those suffering, and those mourning the dead, with the tell-tale gauntness and purple blotches of Kaposi's sarcoma. A powerful witness to a decimated generation.

Now, for many people in the west, HIV/AIDS is a chronic disease, potentially survivable with enough health care and drugs. It's much better than the death era that gave us Tony Kushner's two Angels in America plays, though complacency is an enemy. Few people go to the AIDS mass any more. Yet too many people are still becoming infected and dying, even here, and in Africa, it remains a lethal, destructive force.

And the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Belgium still considers AIDS an "inherent justice" on its sufferers. Their fault, for having the wrong sort of sex. I wonder what he says to a woman whose cheating husband infects her because he won't use a condom?

Sounds like there is still a need for that outreach and radical inclusion.

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