Is one gold coin too much to ask?

The Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated renews its call for an annual World AIDS Day gold coin collection to be taken up in the churches as a tangible gesture to help people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world.

In an Open Letter appeal to Australia's Catholic Bishops through Online Catholics, Australia's smallest AIDS-care charity, The Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated, is renewing its call for them to organise an annual World AIDS Day gold coin collection to be taken up in the churches as a tangible gesture to help people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world.

Brian Haill, the founder of the Melbourne-based charity which was an agency member of Catholic Social Services Victoria for more than a decade, made his first such appeal to Cardinal George Pell more than six years ago but the bishops refused the cardinal on the basis that the national flock was already sufficiently burdened with special collections.

Mr Haill remembers the rejection well: “It was about that time that my local parish priest subsequently announced that he'd be expecting his parishioners to contribute to a gold coin collection, not once a year but every month to help fund the construction of a new church hall. It's still being taken up.”

Mr Haill says the special nationwide collection would need to be taken up on the Sunday closest to World AIDS Day which is marked on December the 1 (for example, December 3 this year).

"With 25 million already killed by AIDS, over 40 million presently living with HIV/AIDS, and with more than three million killed by it each year and some five million infected annually, what else is needed to melt the bishops' hearts?" Mr Haill asked.

"The Catholic Church in Australia does so little in its response to people struggling to live with HIV/AIDS.

“About five years ago, the Melbourne Archdiocese pulled the plug even on what little money it used to give us to provide supported accommodation and care to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Victoria. It decided it only wanted to involve itself in a part-time chaplaincy service and even the address of that facility was to be kept secret. It's located close to St Patrick's Cathedral, in East Melbourne, but its postal address is listed as in another suburb," Mr Haill said.

"Surely, an annual gold coin collection is the least the Church can do.

"As World AIDS Day 2006 looms, the world has been alerted to the imminent prospect that Pope Benedict will make a pronouncement on whether the Church will allow the use of condoms by those married Catholics whose spouses are infected by HIV/AIDS.

“If that wide expectation of approval is dashed, the Pope will have shredded his best opportunity to endorse a tangible - a Christ-like - gesture of compassion.

“While the Church has an enviable global record as a caregiver, isn't avoidance in the first instance so much more desirable?"

Talking about warm gestures, Mr Haill added that The Australian AIDS Fund had been engulfed in a tidal wave of hand-knitted jumpers made by people, both young and old, throughout Australia, responding to a plea for something better in which to wrap Africa's orphans, some of whom are simply reliant on newspaper.

He said that in just the past few weeks, almost 20,000 jumpers - and assorted bonnets and bootees - had been knitted by people in a host of environments including nursing homes, retirement villages, community centres, private homes and knitting circles. Some 7000 were already at sea, bound for orphans in Malawi, with the others about to follow.

The details of this Malawi project are on the The Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated website.


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