Hopeful interfaith service highlights three decades of
progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS
Written by Anthony Moujaes
July 22, 2012
A powerful display of interfaith spirit filled the
Washington National Cathedral in a service of hope and
commitment in the global response to HIV/AIDS.
The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, executive director of the
United Church of Christ's HIV/AIDS Network (UCAN,
Inc.), one of the service's primary organizers, said
those involved in the Saturday night July 21 worship sought
to paint a picture of the fight against AIDS through
"We didn't just get together and start writing a
liturgy. We got together and talked about what's
happened in the 30 years of this epidemic," an
emotional Schuenemeyer said. "And the blood and the
sweat and the tears of people who have given their lives in
response, and the people who have fallen victim to the
Dr. James Curran, who first discovered AIDS in 1981, shared
an inspiring message charting three decades of progress in
the work to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. But Curran reminded
the 1,000-plus people in attendance the fight is not
"The part at the end [from Winston Churchill] really
said it all. Never give up, never give up. Never, never,
never, never give up. That has to be the mantra,"
Schuenemeyer said. "And that's what his life has
been about. He's been battling the epidemic from the
beginning and has provided incredible leadership."
Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim calls to prayer were
woven into the 90-minute service, along with music from
three D.C.-area groups: the Performing Arts Society of the
Gospel Choir, members of the Gay Men's Chorus, and
Batala, a traditional drumming group.
"Being a part of this service I think means to be a
part of the spiritual energies as a part of the response,
and not just as Christians, but as Muslims, Buddhists,
Hindus and Jewish and other faiths of the world,"
Schuenemeyer said. "The power of the spirit and the
faith to work together will be critical in the whole goal
of getting to zero."
Curran said Saturday he "was privileged to deliver the
keynote at the first conference on AIDS in Atlanta in 1985.
Fewer than 3,000 people attended and admission was
AIDS 2012, which is being held in Washington, D.C., July 23
- 27, is the first world AIDS gathering in 22 years in the
United States because of a government policy that
prohibited persons with HIV from entering the
country. With a repeal by President Barack Obama, the
international community is gathering in the nation's
capital to share ideas in hopes of soon eradicating the
"The conference is back to remind us what we have
accomplished and how far he have to go with AIDS,"
Curran said. He spoke about how society must reshape itself
to "redefine the unacceptable. Without doing do
hundreds of millions of people with HIV are at
Panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt were displayed inside the
cathedral, with sections hanging from the north and south
balconies, and one panel - a nameless panel known as
"The Last One" - shown behind the podium. Each
section of the quilt is 144 square feet, and stitched
together with eight colorful and unique 3-foot by 6-foot
panels with messages of love to HIV/AIDS victims.
"Every panel represents at least one person who has
fallen from this disease," Schuenemeyer said.
"The day 'The Last One' will be sewn into the
quilt is the day we can say that's the last [person to
die from HIV/AIDS]. That's [part of] why people are
here, and they can see it and we're mobilized