Pope John Paul II marked World AIDS Day by receiving hundreds of health care workers from around the world in the Vatican. He urged AIDS sufferers not to feel alone, and he encouraged all those who are working to defeat the deadly disease.
Voluntary health care workers from around the globe were received in the Paul Sixth Hall in the Vatican Saturday morning, as the international community celebrated World AIDS Day.
Pope John Paul had special words for sufferers of the terrible disease. "Do not feel alone," he said, "because the pope is close to you, and supports you with affection in your difficult journey."
AIDS began to affect human beings twenty years ago, and is the fourth leading cause of death in the world today. According to a report issued by the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS/HIV program, 40 million people are infected with the AIDS virus.
One-third of these are aged between 15-and-24, and many are not even aware they are carriers.
In his speech to health care workers, the pope also urged people to make themselves aware of the causes and consequences of this serious disease. He said the Roman Catholic Church encourages all those who work tirelessly to defeat AIDS.
Pope John Paul said voluntary health care workers offer important assistance to institutions, which must therefore have an interest in promoting and supporting voluntary services. "In our modern and socially advanced societies," the pope said, "which envisage specific institutions to fill the needs of the poor and suffering, there is a strong need for a 'soul supplement' to provide hope."
Although institutions can certainly respond to the social needs of people, he continued, "none of them is capable of replacing the heart of man, his compassion, his love and his initiative."
The pope concluded by saying that joint action must be carried out by Catholic health care workers and those of other religions. He said, "The defense and promotion of life are not the monopoly of anyone in particular, but a task entrusted to all. Together, it is easier to defeat serious forms of injustice and misery, which offend human dignity."
"Together," the pope said, "it is possible to offer a more decisive contribution to the growth of a civilized society."