Parishes meet to focus on AIDS Quilt serves as reminder that 'work is not done'

April 23, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff

At the first archdiocesan AIDS town meeting, held at St. Joseph parish in Eldersburg on Saturday, about 50 people joined workshops, watched improvisational drama, gathered resources and exchanged information.

But the most powerful presence was the AIDS quilt, a poignant reminder of the epidemic that could infect as many as 40 million people worldwide by the turn of the century.

Lively conversation faded into pensive silence as people read the somber messages on the panels that lined the floor and walls of the meeting room.

"Let it serve as a reminder to the living that your work is not done," said one panel, which held the ashes of several victims.

Many of the 160 parishes in the Baltimore archdiocese have formed AIDS ministries to educate their congregations and to help patients and their families cope with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

"We face the greatest challenge to compassion the church has ever confronted as we stand in solidarity with those exposed to or experiencing this disease," said Bishop P. Francis Murphy, chairman of the archdiocese's AIDS Ministry.

He called the meeting "a day of hope, a forum of great learning and sharing" that brought together parishes, health organizations and those who deal daily with AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes it.

"It always helps to meet people in the same ministry and find out what they are doing," said Sister Mary Beth Modde, minister to HIV and AIDS patients at St. Agnes Hospital. "Our ministry with the ter-minally ill can be draining. But every day we see people who are transformed through suffering."

Of all the photos, artwork and exhibits at the daylong session, the quilt panels drew the most attention and comment. Debbie Barrett, a volunteer with the Youth Group at St. Joseph, looked tearfully at the quilt.

"I came to gather some knowledge that I can bring back to the kids," she said. "I wish the kids had more access to this stuff."

Cami Reynolds, a volunteer with the quilt project, said the panels elicit the same reaction from nearly all who see them. She brought the panels to St. Joseph, the first church in Carroll County to establish an AIDS ministry, from her home in Frederick.

"As soon as people see the panels, there is awareness and there are questions," said Ms. Reynolds. "It has a spiritual power."

For years, families of AIDS patients have been making "the threads of love" panels. The quilt pieces number in the thousands, and the entire quilt will be on display Oct. 13-15 in Washington.

Churches should emulate the quilt by reminding and comforting all, said the Rev. Edward Hendricks, campus minister at Frostburg State University and a workshop leader.

Shirley Abbott has quilted two panels in memory of her sons who died of AIDS in the last three years.

"It is important that my church knows it has to help," said Ms. Abbott. "This day is educating people more."

Helping can be through prayer, education and physically caring for AIDS patients, Father Hendricks said.

Parishes should have open discussions on the epidemic and make educational materials available, particularly to youths, he said.

"We are now faced with a disease that kills people, and kids want to know the what, why and how," said Peggy Piazza, health-care coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Hospital AIDS unit, who led a workshop on educating youths about AIDS.

Students from Western Maryland College also played a role. Nationally, one in every 250 college students is infected with HIV, said members of AIDS Support Awareness and Prevention (ASAP), a campus group that trained with the Carroll County Health Department and uses live theater and discussion in its peer education program.

The group's members said they would be ready to schedule performances at area churches in the fall. "Our main goal next year is to work with high school students and get out into our community," said Bonnie Bosley, faculty adviser to ASAP.

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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