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Maria Cimperman: When God’s People Have HIV/AIDS


Maria Cimperman, When God’s People Have HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2005), 159 pages, ISBN 9781570756238.

How should Christians affected by HIV/AIDS be understood? Maria Cimperman, an Ursuline sister, challenges the church to view those affected or threatened by the pandemic as God’s children in need of help—just as Christ would see them. She advises the Christian community to embrace them, love them, and work tirelessly to eliminate the source of their suffering.

The book, the content of which was Cimperman’s doctorial dissertation, presents touchable realities on HIV/AIDS within the human community. It offers more of practical experiences and encounters on the topic rather than theoretical formulation. In her introduction, she explains the experiences that pushed her to research on HIV/AIDS as a theologian. She says it was born out of the necessity to address the issue after she interacted with people affected by the pandemic.

The Ursulines — Roman Catholic religious order founded by Angela de Merici in 1535 at Brescia, Italy, primarily for the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy. Their patron saint is Saint Ursula, the legendary virgin and martyr that was said to have been slain by Huns in Cologne, Germany, supposedly in 383 CE. The Ursulines have a long history in North America beginning with the founding of their Quebec monastery in 1639 and including the anti-catholic Ursuline Convent Riots of 1834 near Boston, Massachusetts. The order continues to operate convents and educational institutions around the world.

Cimperman addresses the intensity of the pandemic and discuses its two prime causes, gender inequality and poverty. She gives precise statistics on the rate in which HIV/AIDS is growing in various communities of the world. In addition, she presents the consequences of the pandemic in human development with special reference to African economics and society. People’s mindsets and cultural beliefs are seen as the prime cause of gender inequality while global injustice is expressed as the major propagator of poverty in different world communities. Both of these factors have created susceptibility for the spreading of HIV/AIDS.

A discussion of the meaning of human existence as understood in the context of Christian revelation is offered. Cimperman develops a theological anthropology that engages human identity on the basis of relationship with God, others, and self. For her, suffering is so central that any decision on HIV/AIDS must be based on the reality of experience. Cimperman sees suffering as something that creates in us Christ’s love, hope and liberty. Christ’s love calls us to a response that involves sacrifice.

We are to be active agents of hope in the world of HIV/AIDS through relationships. She argues that for our response to be effective virtues must play a leading role. Hope, fidelity, justice, and prudence are discussed as part of the virtues that the Christian community cannot leave behind while responding to HIV/AIDS. Spirituality and morality must be integrated in Christian discipleship in order to offer an adequate response to the pandemic.

I find the presentation of real cases of people responding to HIV/AIDS in the last chapter quite helpful. Noerine Keleba’s story moves me a great deal. The suffering she encountered due to the loss of her husband through HIV/AIDS stirred her to begin The AIDS Support Organization (TASO). Her words arouse a needed sense of concern that is worth noting. She says they met to “cry and pray together,” and focused on the practical issues that affected their lives.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2009

About the Author: Michael Muoki Wambua, M.Th. cand. (Daystar University, Nairobi, Kenya), and B.A (East Africa School of Theology) is the Vice Chairman of Africa Capacity Building Initiative, a Lecturer at African Center for Great Commission in Nairobi and a Church minister with Nairobi Pentecostal Church.

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