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AIDS vigil brings communities together

Aboriginal drummers

By Stuart Mann

Bishop Mark MacDonald
Bishop Mark MacDonald, the national indigenous Anglican bishop, speaks at the World AIDS Day Vigil on Dec. 1. Photo by Michael Hudson

The diocese’s annual World AIDS Day Vigil took on a new dimension this year, as it also marked the start of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week.

The service, held at St. Peter, Carlton Street on Dec. 1, drew about 60 people and included a homily by Bishop Mark MacDonald, the national indigenous Anglican bishop, who spoke about his brother’s death from AIDS.

“My brother was in one of the first waves of people who died of AIDS,” he said. “Though my family had many challenges in life beforehand and in the experience itself, my brother’s AIDS was a place where we found the strength to truly be a family. God finds a way to heal our humanity by helping us transform our tragedies into the reunion of our lost communal humanity.”

The service included testimonials by a mother who was HIV-positive, an aboriginal man who talked about living with HIV in the native community, and a man who had been incarcerated for 22 months for not telling his partner he was HIV-positive. (In Canada, it is a crime for HIV-positive people to have unprotected sex without telling their partner.)

Aboriginal drummers
Drummers at the World AIDS Day Vigil on Dec. 1. Photo by Michael Hudson

The service featured aboriginal sacred dancing, drumming and smudging. Candles were lit by all those who attended. The diocese’s HIV/AIDS Working Group and members of the aboriginal community created the liturgy.

“It brought a fresh new expression to the service,” said Canon Douglas Graydon, the diocese’s coordinator of Chaplaincy Services. “It was really great to see members of the gay community and the aboriginal community coming together. The general consensus was that it was a very meditative and uplifting vigil.”

The diocese has been holding an AIDS vigil on the first Sunday of Advent for the past eight years. Chaplaincy Services has also made resources available to parishes that want to incorporate it into their Sunday worship.

World AIDS Day is held around the globe to recognize the social justice and human dimension of the pandemic. Vigils are also held on that day to remember those who have died and to remember the issues involving HIV and AIDS. It is estimated that about 30,000 people in the Greater Toronto Area are HIV-positive.