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(RNS) Religious leaders from around the world pledged at a meeting in The Netherlands to work to eliminate the stigma and discrimination of those living with HIV/AIDS.
“Religious leaders can play a vital role in the AIDS response,” said Michael Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in his opening address to the summit.
“By promoting community solidarity, they can prevent new HIV infections and ensure that people living with HIV are treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
The first High Level Summit of Religious Leaders on HIV, held Monday and Tuesday (March 22-23), included some 40 Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders.
Participants from the United States included, among others, the Rev.
Calvin O. Butts, III, pastor of New York’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church; the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
“With remorse we regret that those living with HIV have at times been at the receiving end of judgment, rejection,” read a statement released at the Summit. “We need to make greater efforts to ensure that all people living with HIV find a welcome within faith communities.”
In taking those efforts, the leaders committed to “work to end the silence that fosters stigma and discrimination.”
After discussing the exponential growth of the pandemic, the summit leaders pledged to partner together to fight against HIV/AIDS.
“We hold each other accountable in this partnership, eradicating stigma and discrimination and jointly enabling the universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support which will lead us to a new world, a world of respect, justice, love and dignity for all of our world’s people,” the statement said.
By Kimberlee Hauss
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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