Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Saints bring hope on World AIDS Day

Patrons of the AIDS Pandemic by Lewis Williams, SFO © 2006 Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482) Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL
Today, on World AIDS Day, we support everyone affected by HIV. We applaud prevention and treatment efforts, and we honor those who died of AIDS -- more than 25 million people worldwide. “Patrons of the AIDS Pandemic” by Lewis Williams shows two pairs of medieval male saints who faced disease epidemics together with friendship and faith. Their man-to-man bond speaks to the gay community, where AIDS has a disproportionately large impact. The couples stand on each side of a chestnut tree, a symbol of life after death. “It is hoped that they offer solace to companions who have survived a loved one’s death, or to friends\family burdened by the death of two companions,” says the text accompanying the icon. On the left are 13th-century Franciscans who ministered in an Italian leper colony: Blessed Bartolo Buonpedoni and Blessed Vivaldo. Bartolo got leprosy while caring for the sick, so he had to live in segregated housing. His loyal friend Vivaldo moved into the leper house with him, even though he himself did not contract the ailment. They lived together for 20 years until Bartolo’s death. Today there are effective treatments for leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease. AIDS has taken its place as a dreaded and stigmatized disease. On the right stand 14th-century Carmelite monks St.Avertanus and Blessed Romeo, traveling companions who died together of the plague. Avertanus felt inspired to go to Rome, so he got permission to take Romeo with him. They faced rain and snow as they made an adventurous pilgrimage over the Alps from France to Italy. No Italian city would let them in, for an epidemic of plague was raging. Avertanus died first, followed a week later by Romeo. The icon was painted by New Mexico artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. World AIDS Day holds great personal meaning for me. I ministered in the GLBT community of San Francisco in the late 1980s, back when there were no effective treatments and AIDS deaths were common . I wrote about the experience for Christian Century magazine in an article titled “We Are the Church Alive, the Church with AIDS.” The article is reprinted in the book The Church with AIDS: Renewal in the Midst of Crisis, edited by Letty Russell. I lost many beloved friends to AIDS. In their memory, I am pleased to add this post to the new GLBT Saints series here at the Jesus in Love Blog. With my heart, I join in the following AIDS prayer by Diann L. Neu, Diann, cofounder and codirector of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER). It was published in Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations: ____ One Person: Compassionate Holy One, open our hearts and minds and hands so that we may connect ourselves to the global community of others responding to AIDS as we pray: We remember all the women, men, and children in this country and around the world who are living with AIDS. All: Justice demands that we remember and respond. One: We remember all who care for people living and dying with AIDS in their homes, in hospices, and in support centers. All: Justice demands that we remember and respond. One: We remember all who are involved in research and hospital care that they may respect the dignity of each person. All: Justice demands that we remember and respond. One: We remember all partners who are left mourning for their beloved ones. All: Justice demands that we remember and respond. One: We remember all parents who learn the truth of their children’s lives through their process of facing death…. We remain vigilant, Until a cure for AIDS is found, Until those dying with AIDS are comforted, Until truth sets us free, Until love drives out injustice. We shall not give up the fight. ____ More spiritual resources for World AIDS Day are available at mccchurch.org. Another beautiful artwork supporting people with AIDS is “Il Martir (The Martyr)” by Armando Lopez (pictured at right). For the full story, see my previous post, “Art honors AIDS martyrs on World AIDS Day.”


Terence Weldon said...

Many thanks for these, Kittredge. These are two pairs I did not know.Their link to the Aids problem is entirely appropriate.

Some people would object that we should not "hijack" saints to the gay banner unless we can demonstrate their homosexual love lives., but this is a bizarre expectation. (There is no need to prove a sexually active, straight relationship to assume that any given saint is not gay.)

The only point that matters is that these couples were obviously not living in what today we would describe as "traditional" marriages, but in same sex pairs. That makes the "queer" to me.

KittKatt said...

Terence, I was going to tell you about this post this morning, but I see that you’ve already found it! You have a head-start on World AIDS Day because you’re in the UK.

You’re also in tune with my thinking on using the “GLBT saints” logo. It doesn’t (can’t) mean that the saints were gay, lesbian, bi or trans in the contemporary sense, but that they are of special interest to today’s GLBT people because these saints are in some sense queer. Still, we need a clear, simple name in order to attract readers, who can then read the fine print after we catch their interest.

They’re not necessarily canonized saints, either. As you can see, some of the four men in the icon have the title “Blessed” -- still a step away from official sainthood.

I love your “Gay, Lesbian & Trans Saints (and Others) Blog.” Nicely inclusively name, by the way. You’re very well informed on GLBT saints, but I’m not surprised that these pairs are new to you. The icon apparently grows out of original research by Dennis O’Neill for his upcoming book, a sequel to his “Passionate Holiness” book.

Jon said...

A beautiful picture and a beautifully written entry :)

Trudie said...

This is a wonderful posting, but I especially thank you for the link calling attention to last year's World AIDS Day item. Somehow I missed it (well, I'll admit I wasn't as faithful to the blog then, as I'd only recently discovered it!). Anyway, these are both fabulous items. Kitt -- is there a possibility you could expand these postings into a book?

Turtle Woman said...

This is just a great blog. Just sent you $20 to support this incredible project. Also, in a recession, gay and lesbian stuff always seems to struggle the most, and quality lesbian and gay is the vision we want to continue with!
Best of luck and hope you reach your fundraising goal...

KittKatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KittKatt said...

Wow, thanks Trudie and Turtle Woman,for supporting this blog -- with your words and your donations. I’m glad that you consider this to be a high quality blog, worthy of financial support and publication as a book.

I’m always looking for new book ideas, so I will consider your suggestion, Trudie.

Maybe I should have mentioned in the post that my article “We are the Church Alive, the Church with AIDS” was included in a book edited by Letty Russell. In fact, she borrowed the title from my article. The book is The Church with AIDS: Renewal in the Midst of Crisis I just added a link to my original post now.

I also just heard that there’s a new AIDS book out: “Uncommon Hope” by Joshua Love of MCC.

Yewtree said...

Amen to that.