Religious groups lead Int’l AIDS Candlelight Memorial

Leaders from various religious backgrounds, students, and members of the academic community offer prayer and light up candles to commemorate the HIV/AIDS victims at the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial ceremony in West Visayas State University on May 22, 2023. (Photo by Forum-Dimensions)

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

In observance of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, the Philippine Catholic HIV/AIDS Network (PhilCHAN) Iloilo remembered the thousand Filipinos who succumbed to HIV/AIDS in a mass and candlelight ceremony on Monday, May 22.

The event took place at the West Visayas State University grandstand, where students, members of the academic community, and leaders from various religious backgrounds offered a Taizé prayer and placed candles along a red ribbon, symbolizing support for People Living with HIV (PLHIV).

Rev. Fr. Rodolfo Dan Cancino, who offered a memorial prayer, stressed that the stigma attached to PLHIV is detrimental to human dignity.

“We are one humanity. We have our dignity as human persons. We are created from a supreme God, from one God who bestowed on us that dignity… But what’s happening right now, our dignity is destroyed and wounded,” he said.

Cancino said the stigma is dictated by an individual’s background, societal traditions, and certain prejudice and biases, which he believes kills people.

He further stressed the role the church has to play in destigmatizing negative attitudes against people with HIV and AIDS, saying “The role of church leaders is to really make aware that stigma and discrimination is never in the heart of the Lord.”

“Our sin or our wrongdoing does not identify us of who we are,” Cancino added.

Meanwhile, Rev. Fr. Joemarie Villalobos presided over the mass dedicated to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.

PhilCAN also offered free HIV testing and counseling at the WVSU Medical Center earlier in the day.

According to the Iloilo Provincial Health Office, there are currently 1,518 known cases of HIV in the province of Iloilo, with 29 new cases recorded in January 2023 alone.

The IACM is an international event held annually during the third week of May to honor and remember those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS and to support those currently battling the disease.