Conference raises AIDS awareness

Oscar Chicas

Several Villanova students attended the National AIDS Ministry Conference at Loyola University Chicago in July.

Their expenses were paid by Campus Ministry, the National Catholic AIDS Network, and Catholic Relief Services.

The annual conference brings together active AIDS ministry workers and advocates from around the country for five days of spiritual renewal and an exchange of experiences.

The Villanova representatives attended workshops and prayer sessions and enjoyed gospel music directed by Stephen Lee of Loyola University New Orleans, a board-certified music therapist.

The annual theme for the conference this year was “Transforming Silence.”

Many of the workshops revolved around that theme of breaking the silence surrounding HIV/AIDS.

One session covered the Stigma of HIV/AIDS presenter Darrin Harris highlighted the “willful ignorance of those who fail to realize that the Body of Christ includes all of us, and the body is wounded.”

Another workshop was titled “Women of Color Finding a Voice in Rural Communities.” Co-presented by Onita Triplett and Dawn Campbell of Louisiana who discussed how to speak and relate to women who are often single mothers, poor, and deprived of needed resources and support systems.

“One client was so stubborn, I had to develop my relationship with her for a whole year, before I brought up the subject of AIDS, and convinced her to get tested,” Triplett said.

Another workshop was presented by Mary Lou Hamlin.

A legend in her own right as an AIDS Minister, she is currently the NY-Capital Region President for the NAMES Project Foundation in upstate New York.

During this workshop, attendees helped craft a new panel for the Foundation’s famed Quilt, part of which is coming to our campus for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

Other highlights of the Conference included the presence of an Acting Troupe from ContraSIDA, an organization in El Salvador that educates young men and women on the dangers of AIDS through the use of skits. The facilitator of this group, Sr. Mary Annel, M.D., received the Conference’s Annual Lumina Award for a lifetime of work in the community of AIDS Ministry.

Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago was also on hand.

The Cardinal appeared briefly to offer encouragement to the conferees and to announce a new partnership between the NCAN and Loyola University Chicago.

Prominent theologian Rev. Bryan Massingale, of Marquette University was also present.

Besides teaching in the seminary at Marquette, Massingale, consults with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the problem of racism.

“The conference was nothing short of life-changing,” Jon Messing, Class of 2007, said.

“The realities presented, the people present, and the stories told were absolutely a spiritual experience and I cannot thank Campus Ministry, NCAN, and Catholic Relief Services enough for that opportunity.”

For more information, visit the NCAN website at