Progress in Uganda: Catholics' first-ever AIDS day

J.P. Conly meet with Maxensia Nakibuuka in Uganda (Photo courtesy of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News)
J.P. Conly meets with Maxensia Nakibuuka in Uganda (Photo courtesy of San Diego Gay & Lesbian News)

In another sign of how Pope Francis is leading the Roman Catholic Church away from homophobia, the church in Uganda has recognized World AIDS Day for the first time.

Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga invited Catholic lay leader Maxensia Nakibuuka to coordinate the event.  An HIV-positive mother of four and a widow for the past 16 years, since her husband died of AIDS, she is a human rights activist who founded and runs the Lungujja Community Health Caring Organisation in Kampala.

Nakibuuka is a supporter of the LGBT-friendly Good Samaritan Consortium, which comprises 14 organizations working to improve health services for LGBT, men who have sex with men, IV drug users and sex workers. One of its programs is a sensitization and stigmatization-reduction training aimed at challenging the pervasive homophobia of health-care workers and others in Uganda.

J.P. Conly of San Diego attended the church’s World AIDS Day event at the end of a month of nursing volunteer work in Uganda. He said:

Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga (Photo courtesy of Instablogs.com)
Roman Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga (Photo courtesy of Instablogs.com)

The church was full. The archbishop spoke about harassment and how it needs to stop, that everyone has basic human rights and one of them is being free of harassment. He has advised the local police of this but also stated they must also be obedient of the president.

The archbishop stood in front of the congregation, holding a  candle, and we each lit ours off of his. Maxensia then stood at the microphone and called us up. We stood in front of the congregation as members  the Good Samaritan Consortium.  She introduced each one of us.

In a strong voice, she announced the message of this year’s event was “Zero discrimination, zero stigma and zero HIV.”

Afterwards we ate outside where a cake was presented to the Good Samaritans of  Maxensia’s church.  They then fed the poor and provided gifts to the poor from different parishes.

LGBT rights supporters were delighted at the Catholic service, although it wasn’t exactly as they would have wished.   For one thing, instead of the standard “ABC” approach to fighting HIV/AIDS — abstinence, be faithful, and use condoms — Lwanga proposed an alternative “ABC” approach — abstinence, be faithful, and be Christ-like.  The church remained opposed to condom use.

In addition, several LGBT members of the consortium did not attend the service, apparently unsure of how they would be received.

In her preparations for the World AIDS Day service,  Nakibuuka gave credit to the  Good Samaritan Consortium. Before the service, she said:

Maxensia Nakibuuka
Maxensia Nakibuuka (Click image for a 2012 video by Nakibuuka about her life and the importance of the work of the Global Fund Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.)

What is outstanding is the Consortium and its networks have been working hard to build a relationship with the Catholic Church. This will be the first time Worlds AIDS Day is commemorated in the Diocese. I was personally requested by the Archbishop to organize the entire event. I could not do it alone and that is why the consortium members have been instrumental in getting it done. …

This success is a result of our clear and forthright communications with the church and demonstrating how our organizations can provide services to the marginalized.

The Rev. Albert Ogle, a supporter of the consortium and president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, said:

The church’s change of attitude towards LGBT people, led by Pope Francis, is undoubtedly having a global impact, even in places where the faith community has historically pushed for greater punishment and even criminalization, like in Uganda.

For the past four years, the faith community in Uganda has been embroiled in a culture war against the LGBT community and the recent statements by the Pope to be more inclusive in the church’s pastoral response to LGBT people has been heard most of all by the country’s Catholic leadership. The Church has 13 million members in Uganda and a network of schools, hospitals and clinics, so the Archbishop’s invitation for dialogue and to discover ways the church can serve the most marginalized is a tangible step where Pope Francis reforms are being heard.

For more information, see Ogle’s column “RGOD2: Uganda’s Archbishop: We will not discriminate.”

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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