Buddhists view PLWHAs as their brothers and sisters and treat them with unconditional love and compassion. – Mr Henry Baey, president of the Buddhist Fellowship

Muslim, Buddhist and Catholic representatives share how their religions view the condition

An interfaith forum, comprising representatives from the Muslim, Buddhist and Catholic faiths, discussed how their religions view HIV/AIDS and care for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs).

About 40 people attended the Dec 6 forum held at Blessed Sacrament Church’s Damien Hall and organised by the Catholic AIDs Response Efforts.

One should regard bad things happening to people as a test from God, a way to bring believers closer to God. – Mr Feisal Abdul Rahman, a volunteer with AMPUH

Mr Henry Baey, president of the Buddhist Fellowship, told the gathering that Buddhism does not view HIV/AIDS as a punishment and sees it as “a human disease like any other”.

This is because Buddhism teaches that “life is subject to suffering … these are how things are”, he said. Contracting diseases is part and parcel of human existence, he added.

There is no difference between a person with diabetes and a person with HIV/AIDS, he stressed.

Buddhists view PLWHAs as “their brothers and sisters” and treat them with “unconditional love and compassion”. It is also not in the interest of Buddhists to ask why the person got the disease or to lay blame, but to help the patient deal with the condition, he added.

The disease must never be regarded as a form of punishment from God. – Sacred Heart Fr Gerardus Suyono, assistant priest, Blessed Sacrament Church

A group of Buddhist volunteers also visit the Communicable Disease Centre to offer social and spiritual support to those suffering from AIDS, he said.

Mr Feisal Abdul Rahman, a volunteer from Anak Melayu Islam Melawan Penyakit Unik HIV/AIDS (AMPUH) under Action for AIDs, said one should see God’s compassion and mercy in plagues or natural disasters, despite verses in the Bible and Qur’an stating how God sent these to punish mankind.

One should regard bad things happening to people as a test from God, a way to bring believers closer to God. It is also a way to bring community members to care for other community members, he added.

AMPUH was established in Nov 1999 to raise community awareness, encourage community participation and enhance community support for Malay/Muslim HIV/AIDS patients.

Sacred Heart Fr Gerardus Suyono, assistant priest of Blessed Sacrament Church, shared the Catholic Church’s view of HIV/AIDS.

The disease must never be regarded as a form of punishment from God, he stressed. He reiterated the Church’s position on the value and dignity of the human person, and the sanctity of each person’s body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Suyono also said condoms do not help to check the spread of the disease. The only way to prevent HIV is through abstinence, he said.

He added that the Catholic Church is very much involved in advocacy efforts and in fighting the disease in Africa. He added that it “would be beautiful” for the different faiths in Singapore “to connect and do something together”.

Fr Suyono also said he provides pastoral counselling and spiritual support to PLWHAs.

Responding to a question during the question-and-answer session on the use of condoms for sex workers, Fr Suyono said the Church tries to educate them on the true meaning of one’s sexuality as well as the sacredness of the human body in the hope for a behavioural change.

Mr Baey, on the other hand, said Buddhists do not object to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Mr Feisal also said that based on the interpretation of different religious scholars, the use of condoms is permissible to prevent HIV infection.

Presenting the topic on HIV Stigma and Discrimination, Ms Ho Lai Peng, principal medical social worker at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, shared that PLWHAs face discrimination in the workplace as well as difficulties finding accommodation.

She urged the different faith communities to show compassion to such people.

Members of the audience said they learnt much from the forum.

Miss Dorothy Phng, 19, from the Church of St Anthony said the discussion highlighted the similarities among the different faiths in their response to HIV/AIDS.

Her friend, Miss Genevieve Lai, 19, said it would be good if the different faiths can work together to help those with HIV/AIDS since all have a common goal of doing good.

By Darren Boon
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