Faith-based responses to HIV and AIDS

9 Jul 2014   |   Media release   |   Long-term Development

It’s estimated that the Catholic Church provides as much as 25 per cent of the care worldwide for people living with HIV, especially in developing countries.

In light of the Church’s care, compassion and extensive work on HIV and AIDS, a conference will be held this month. Titled Stepping up the Pace: Remembering the Loaves and Fishes, the conference will bring together those who are engaged in faith-based responses to the virus.

Sponsored by Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Australia, St Vincent’s Health Australia and the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network (CHAN), the conference will look at best practices in HIV and AIDS interventions, scientific developments, advocacy with pharmaceutical companies, ethical issues and funding for Catholic HIV and AIDS programs. It is a precursor to the 20th International AIDS conference, which will also be held in Melbourne in late July.

Monsignor Robert Vitillo, Caritas Internationalis special advisor on HIV/AIDS and Health, and the Head of Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, will be in Melbourne for the pre-conference and the main UN Conference.

He notes that, since the 2012 International AIDS Conference, the Church has witnessed a decrease in funding for many faith-based and community-based systems that provide treatment, care, and support for people living with AIDS and HIV and their families.

“We are continually being asked to ‘do more with less’,” Monsignor Vitillo said.

“The situation reminds us of one of Jesus’s most well-known miracles. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is one of the few miracles that is recounted in all four gospels. In it, the disciples are given a seemingly impossible task: to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fishes.  The task overwhelms them, but Jesus shows them that it is possible.”

Similarly, the pre-conference organisers believe that, while considerable challenges remain, the Church can use the parable as an inspiration to step up the pace of its efforts. Monsignor Vitillo echoes this belief.

“This conference is important for Australia and for the whole Pacific region, because it’s the first time an international HIV and AIDS conference of this size is being held in the region. It will provide an opportunity to promote behavioural change to prevent further spread of HIV in the region. There will certainly be challenges along the way but the spirituality of the “loaves and the fishes” guides us as we strive to ‘step up the pace’.”

“The conference will also help us to save lives through early diagnosis and treatment of  the virus, and to spread the Church’s message of care and non-judgemental compassion for those living with, or affected by, HIV and AIDS.”

“It’s also an opportunity for researchers to present their latest findings. This is invaluable for the development of treatments, possible vaccines and a possible cure. Hopefully, these discussions will show us how the Church can maintain a balance between focused advocacy for its mission and services and the requests of those seeking health, healing and the full enjoyment of their God-given dignity,” he added. 

“With health and social services the world over, the Catholic Church has been instrumental in leading a holistic approach to prevention, care and treatment for all affected by the epidemic. This includes rural communities in some of the most isolated parts of the world.”
“Many of the most affected communities can be found on Australia’s doorstep, the Asia-Pacific region.” As Monsignor Vitillo explains, “the needs of communities in this region have been forgotten by some, which is why it’s important to continue treatment programs and other efforts.”

“Because so much of the burden of HIV is in Africa, there’s a great deal of attention on that continent, but not as much on the Pacific region. I think it’s really important for Australians to be able to talk about how they’ve responded well and about what still needs to be done in response to this life-threatening epidemic,” he said.

“Australians can partner with other countries in the Pacific region to address HIV and AIDS issues more effectively.”

Held on 18-20 July at the Catholic Leadership Centre in East Melbourne, the Catholic pre-conference will include presentations from His Excellency Tim Fischer, the former Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See; Father Rick Bauer, the Chair of CHAN; Professor Suzanne Crowe, the Associate Director of the Burnet Institute; and Dr Steve Kraus, the Asia/Pacific Regional Director of UNAIDS.

Find out more: Stepping Up the Pace: 2014 HIV/AIDS pre-conference

For more information: Media Advisor, Nicole Clements on 0408 869 833 or email

Back to Newsroom