Subject: UCAN: Caritas Spreads AIDS Prevention Message To Rural Youth On World AIDS Day

ET03955.1474 December 6, 2007 47 EM-lines (540 words)

EAST TIMOR Caritas Spreads Prevention Message To Rural Youth On World AIDS Day

DILI (UCAN) -- On World AIDS Day, Dili diocese distributed thousands of brochures to young people in rural areas to educate them on the dangers of contracting the virus that leads to AIDS.

According to Sister Inacia Mafalda Fatima, health coordinator of Caritas Dili, the objective was to help young people and the community at large understand how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can spread. Sexual intercourse is the most common mode of transmission locally.

Sister Fatima spoke with UCA News on Dec. 1, as catechists trained by Caritas distributed the brochures, in the local Tetum language, and also spoke to young villagers about the danger of HIV/AIDS.

Talking about sex in this predominantly Catholic country of 1 million is still largely taboo. However, the Church realizes that appropriate sex education is important, given that premarital sex is increasingly common.

"We are training catechists from various parishes about sex education so they can teach their parishioners how to prevent HIV/AIDS," Sister Fatima told UCA News. Caritas is the diocesan social-service organization.

So far Timor Leste, or East Timor, seems to have avoided the AIDS crisis that many other countries face. According to data from the Ministry of Health, 43 people have been infected with HIV and 11 of them have died of AIDS. Yet the health minister told media in 2002 that many more cases had not been recorded and Timor Leste was in danger of an AIDS epidemic.

Sister Fatima said Caritas is focusing its work in rural areas because people there have very limited knowledge about HIV/AIDS. The brochures, she explained, list four directives for AIDS prevention. They urge people to avoid sex before marriage, be faithful to their spouse if they are married, use a condom only if their spouse has HIV, and strengthen their faith in God.

Catholic Church teaching forbids artificial contraceptives, including the use of condoms. The Health Ministry and various NGOs working in Timor Leste promote the use of condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention and family planning.

Maria Geltrudes, 23, a high school student in Dili, knows about the danger of the incurable disease. She said members of the younger generation that are having love affairs should have better knowledge about HIV prevention.

"Sex education is now very important so young people can learn about sex and sexually transmitted diseases," she told UCA News, adding that she had received sex education at her Catholic school.

To mark World AIDS Day, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili celebrated Mass on Dec. 1 especially for high school and university students, about 800 of whom came to the cathedral.

"I appeal to you all, the young people, to put yourselves close to God and stay away from the disease," he said. "You are the future of the Church and country."

The bishop warned them not to fall into the temptation of having "free sex," which he described as one of the negative consequences of globalization. "Do not just think of today, you have to think of your future," he exhorted.

Bishop da Silva also asked the young people to offer special prayers for babies who get infected with HIV from their mothers, all who are suffering from HIV/AIDS and those who have died from AIDS.


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