Jesus christ speaks with an aids patient
RACHEL Greetings to all you who are tuned in to Emisoras Latinas. We find ourselves today just outside old Jerusalem. Our guest, Jesus Christ, wanted to see what remains of the famous pool of Bethesda.
JESUS Lots of sick people used to gather here — invalids, blind people, deaf people. They claimed that the waters were miraculous.
RACHEL The ones who gather here nowadays are the beggar and the panhandlers. Look at that fellow in the corner over there – he looks really dejected.
JESUS What do you think’s wrong with him?
RACHEL I don’t know, but he doesn’t look well at all. He might even have AIDS.
RACHEL It’s a sickness that didn’t exist in your time. Today it’s the worst of all diseases, a real epidemic.
JESUS Come on, let’s go over near him.
RACHEL Be careful, Jesus!
JESUS Why do you say that?
RACHEL It’s a very contagious disease. Don’t you see how other people are avoiding him?
JESUS How are you, fellow?
RACHEL Don’t touch him, Jesus.
JESUS Good day, my friend. Tell me, … what’s wrong with you?
YOUTH Can’t you see? They diagnosed me with AIDS a year ago, and look how I am now…
JESUS And they couldn’t find any cure for your sickness?
YOUTH Only with lots of money can I get the medicines I need. My family is very poor – we’re Palestinians from the north.
JESUS Ah, then we’re fellow countrymen. I’m from Galilee too.
YOUTH My family didn’t know what to do with me when they found out. The neighbors filled their heads with stories about how this was a punishment from God. Whenever the people saw me they ran away. So then I came to Jerusalem to see if I could find something better here. But all the hospitals have closed their doors to me. Besides being a Palestinian, I have AIDS!
JESUS You’ve suffered a lot.
YOUTH Maybe it’s true that God is punishing me for something I did…
JESUS Don’t say that. How is a father going to make his children sick if what he wants is for them to be cured? Look, right now we have to be going, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Will you be here?
RACHEL Where else am I going to be? This is my hideout. You’ll find me here, neighbor.
JESUS Till tomorrow then, my friend. What are you up to, Rachel? You were holding that gadget there all the time…
RACHEL Yes, our audience was listening to your conversation. It’s a scoop Jesus Christ talking to a man sick with terminal AIDS! Can I tell you something?
JESUS Sure, tell me…
RACHEL For a moment I thought… When you shook hands with him, when you embraced him, I thought you would cure him… Ahem, … I was having a journalistic fantasy broadcasting the first miracle live on radio! But nothing happened.
JESUS It’s too late now, Rachel. The ones who should have done something for him didn’t do anything. They didn’t give him the medicines that would have helped him. By telling him that it was a punishment from God, they made him sicker still. His family rejected him. And now they let him die in the street. Those were the miracles that he needed. They did him as much damage as people used to do to the lepers in my time.
RACHEL The thing is, the people are afraid of AIDS.
JESUS The people? You also were afraid, Rachel. When I approached that fellow, you told me not to get too close…
RACHEL Yes, that’s so… The thing is…
JESUS That’s just the way it was with the lepers. The religious laws demanded that they hide themselves away; it required that we reject them.
RACHEL But you cured some lepers.
JESUS Nobody knew how to cure that sickness. I just drew close to them.
RACHEL And that cured them?
JESUS That made them feel a little better. That fellow there feels the pain of his sores, Rachel, but isn’t he more pained by the way his people have rejected him?
RACHEL AIDS the epidemic of the 21st century. The statistics are overwhelming. However, our sick neighbor is not a statistic. Is there nothing we can do for him? From Jerusalem, this is Raquel Perez, reporting for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
In search of miracles
The pool called Bethesda (House of Mercy) or Bezatha (the Pit), and in Greek the Sheep Pool, was located outside the walls of Jerusalem. In the times of Jesus sick people used to gather around it, asking God to cure them miraculously by means of its waters, which supposedly had wondrous powers. Many of those sick people were forbidden to enter the Temple of Jerusalem because their ailments made them “impure”, so they were hoping to find there at the pool the divine mercy that religious law denied them by excluding them from the sacred precinct. Today, in the ruins where that famous pool once was, there are hardly any traces of water.
The first epidemic of globalization
In 1849, during the cholera epidemic which decimated the population of London, the physician John Snow discovered that most of the victims were drinking water from the Broad Street fountain; he consequently recommended that it be closed down and thus succeeded in resolving that serious public health crisis. Since then the study of epidemics has earned an important place among the medical sciences. In our own days AIDS has appeared as the first globalized epidemic, and dealing with the crisis of AIDS is an urgent challenge for all the world’s societies. In Latin America Brazil offers an excellent example. For those who wish to learn about how this successful model for treating the disease was developed, we recommend the article “Brazil: a model for the AIDS crisis” at: www.envio.org.ni.
The figures of the pandemic
The AIDS epidemic threatens not only public health worldwide, but also human rights and economic development. According to the 2006 report of UNAIDS, more than 40 million people around the world are living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or are already suffering from AIDS. Four out of every ten persons living with HIV are women, and about 3 million of all those infected are less than 15 years of age. In the year 2005 some 5 million new infections were reported, and in the same year 3 million persons died from AIDS.
The U.N. Security Council recognized in January 2000 that the AIDS pandemic was a direct threat to national and international security because of the mutually reinforcing dynamics linking together AIDS, poverty and lack of information. The HIV epidemic intensifies poverty and feeds off it. If the “AIDS effect” is not taken into account, then the alternatives proposed for relieving poverty, both personal (migration, sexual work) and national (sweat shops, tourism), can create conditions and scenarios that will extend the epidemic even further.
In Latin America and the Caribbean there are estimated to be some 2 million people now living with the infection. Included in this figure are 150,000 new infections recorded just in 2005. The Caribbean is the second most affected region in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa, although its rates of infection are significantly lower than the extremely high rates of African countries. Interestingly, the western hemisphere countries that have the highest prevalence of the disease in relation to their population are two small Central American nations, Honduras and Belize, with about 1.5% of their adult population living with HIV.
The virtue at stake is not chastity, but justice
The defense of life and the threat that AIDS represents today for the survival of individuals, families and communities oblige us to reflect theologically about this epidemic. Liberation, the option for the poor, justice, mercy – all are biblical and theological categories that help us get closer to AIDS and to the impact it is having on the global society in which we live. Theologians around the world recognize that there is a serious lack of such theological reflection.
According to the priest Leonard Martin, professor of ethics at Ceará, Brazil, this lack of theological reflection is a challenge that neither European theology nor Latin American liberation theology have yet accepted. He claims that the perspective of gender highlights even more how great the lack of reflection and the challenge of AIDS are, since it has been shown that women are especially vulnerable in the face of the epidemic because of the male chauvinist culture that prevails in the world. In the field of moral theology the priest Enda McDonagh, a professor in Ireland, states that the first theological response of a disciple of Jesus and a promoter of the Kingdom of God is to create a just society, and in the case of AIDS the virtue at stake is not chastity, but justice, understood not only as just distribution of goods, but also as the transformation of structures in order to achieve a just society.
These and other reflections were aired at the first Latin American Catholic theological conference on AIDS, which was sponsored by Caritas International and held in San Salvador in September 2001. An interesting report on this meeting documents several initiatives and projects undertaken by Latin American Catholics who are trying to respond to the epidemic. Titled “AIDS: a sign of our times”, the report was written by Nicaraguan specialist Pascual Ortells and can be found at www.envio.org.ni.
Narrowing differences with the Vatican
The rigid, even criminal, positions of the Catholic hierarchs against the use of condoms to prevent AIDS – such is the official doctrine of the Vatican – was discussed at length at the San Salvador conference. Bishop Jacques Suaudeau, then head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was proposing that the prevention of AIDS should not be just a matter of distributing condoms: It should be raised to another level, attacking the true social, economic, political and moral roots of the epidemic. This position is now shared by UNAIDS. Given the seriousness of the epidemic, there has been a growing agreement on policy between the Vatican and international organizations. Caritas International has played an important role in this process.
Robert Vitillo, a U.S. priest who was co-president of Caritas International’s AIDS task force, recounts: In 1987 the United Nations and most national governments were making no mention of abstinence and marital fidelity as appropriate means for preventing AIDS. At one point Mr. Makajima, then director of the World Health Organization, requested a meeting with us and asked me: Why is the Pope against contraceptives? And I answered him: Why are you against matrimony? The WHO director reacted by saying that they were not against matrimony, and Vitillo insisted that the advisories and messages issued by the United Nations never mentioned matrimony or abstinence, even though these also were effective means for preventing AIDS. Vitillo believes that since that meeting UNAIDS has had a better understanding of the position of the Catholic Church, and that little by little that health organization’s messages have been changing.
Even though the Catholic Church has positively influenced public health messages about AIDS, the epidemic continues to this day to present the Church with a serious challenge, that of dialoguing openly about sexual rights and the ethical and anthropological aspects of sexuality. After a long history of rejecting sexual pleasure, of constant denigration of sexuality and of unrelenting misogyny, the resistances in the Church are still much greater than the advances. In some places the Catholic prejudice against the use of condoms and other devices for preventing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases continues to exist and continues to be promoted from the pulpits, since the condom also functions as a contraceptive.
The most dreaded sickness: leprosy
In the course of history there have always been sicknesses considered taboo: they generate deep collective fears and are fatalistically related to some obscure doom. To understand the logic of these social and cultural constructions, we recommend the magnificent book of Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors (Picador, 2001).
In Jesus’ time leprosy was the principal tabooed illness. Leprosy was the sickness that most resembles AIDS in our own time, both for the infected people who feel excluded from society and for society itself, which fears and rejects those who are suffering the disease. Religious laws interpreted leprosy as a punishment from God and ordered lepers to be separated from their families and communities and to live an isolated existence in caves outside of town. When they were going along the roads they had to shout out or ring small bells to warn healthy people that they were coming. The leper was “impure”, not from the point of view of contagion, but from the religious point of view: he was thought to be “accursed of God”, and for that reason it was the priests’ job to determine both the presence of the disease in a person and its cure, if such should come about. The Old Testament contains very extensive and detailed legislation about leprosy. Since it was such a dreaded sickness, there was a popular belief that leprosy would disappear when the Messiah arrived.
The way Jesus approached lepers and touched them was more than just a sign of compassion and sympathy; it was a deliberate rejection of a religious law which he consider inhumane and unjust. Religious law forbade anyone to touch another person who was impure (Leviticus 5,2-4). For that reason, Jesus’ gesture was revolutionary.