The AIDS pandemic in the mid 1980’s created out-and-out fear in communities around the world. Reaching out to those who suffered with HIV/AIDS was almost inconceivable in those early years of the disease. The reaction of the Catholic Church led by Pope John Paul II in 1987, as one of the first leaders of any major faith was unprecedented. During the first papal visit to the city of San Francisco on September 17th, 1987, he urged communities that “God loves you all, without distinction, without limit. He loves those of you who are sick, those who are suffering from AIDS…He loves all with an unconditional and everlasting love.”
His pastoral sensitivities to people affected with AIDS was no better illustrated to the world than when he held and kissed four-year old Brendan O’Rourke who was living with AIDS (contracted from a blood transfusion). He went on to bless and comfort many others on that day who were suffering from the disease at the Mission Dolpres Church. But it is the image of the heartfelt embrace between the pontiff and the four year old boy that endures as a striking symbol of acceptance and love.
Photo credit: I make use of the emotional image of Pope John Paul II hugging Brendan O’Rourke under the rationale of fair use for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, and research. In short, it enables me to makes an important contribution to the reader’s understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone.
I love that picture and am so glad it took some of the stigma and fear away from interacting with those who have it!