Hopeful interfaith service highlights three decades of progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS
Written by Anthony Moujaes
July 22, 2012
A powerful display of interfaith spirit filled the Washington National Cathedral in a service of hope and commitment in the global response to HIV/AIDS.
The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, executive director of the United Church of Christ's HIV/AIDS Network (UCAN, Inc.), one of the service's primary organizers, said those involved in the Saturday night July 21 worship sought to paint a picture of the fight against AIDS through prayer.
"We didn't just get together and start writing a liturgy. We got together and talked about what's happened in the 30 years of this epidemic," an emotional Schuenemeyer said. "And the blood and the sweat and the tears of people who have given their lives in response, and the people who have fallen victim to the disease."
Dr. James Curran, who first discovered AIDS in 1981, shared an inspiring message charting three decades of progress in the work to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. But Curran reminded the 1,000-plus people in attendance the fight is not over.
"The part at the end [from Winston Churchill] really said it all. Never give up, never give up. Never, never, never, never give up. That has to be the mantra," Schuenemeyer said. "And that's what his life has been about. He's been battling the epidemic from the beginning and has provided incredible leadership."
Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim calls to prayer were woven into the 90-minute service, along with music from three D.C.-area groups: the Performing Arts Society of the Gospel Choir, members of the Gay Men's Chorus, and Batala, a traditional drumming group.
"Being a part of this service I think means to be a part of the spiritual energies as a part of the response, and not just as Christians, but as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jewish and other faiths of the world," Schuenemeyer said. "The power of the spirit and the faith to work together will be critical in the whole goal of getting to zero."
Curran said Saturday he "was privileged to deliver the keynote at the first conference on AIDS in Atlanta in 1985. Fewer than 3,000 people attended and admission was free."
AIDS 2012, which is being held in Washington, D.C., July 23 – 27, is the first world AIDS gathering in 22 years in the United States because of a government policy that prohibited persons with HIV from entering the country. With a repeal by President Barack Obama, the international community is gathering in the nation's capital to share ideas in hopes of soon eradicating the disease.
"The conference is back to remind us what we have accomplished and how far he have to go with AIDS," Curran said. He spoke about how society must reshape itself to "redefine the unacceptable. Without doing do hundreds of millions of people with HIV are at risk."
Panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt were displayed inside the cathedral, with sections hanging from the north and south balconies, and one panel – a nameless panel known as "The Last One" – shown behind the podium. Each section of the quilt is 144 square feet, and stitched together with eight colorful and unique 3-foot by 6-foot panels with messages of love to HIV/AIDS victims.
"Every panel represents at least one person who has fallen from this disease," Schuenemeyer said. "The day 'The Last One' will be sewn into the quilt is the day we can say that's the last [person to die from HIV/AIDS]. That's [part of] why people are here, and they can see it and we're mobilized together."