This took place on Tuesday evening at Roman Catholic Emmanuel Cathedral in Central Durban which has served the community since 1902. It has a well-known ministry to the poor and in doing so, cooperates with people of all faith traditions, with a clinic, feeding programme, vocational and educational training and support, as well as pastoral outreach; treating all people as children of the one God. Much of the inspiration for this work came from the former Archbishop Denis Hurley who was a renowned champion of justice and peace and a fierce opponent of apartheid. The Cathedral is situated in the busiest, most vibrant and ethnically diverse part of Durban, standing cheek by jowl with a Mosque, markets and minibus station. Rev Aftab Gohar, Rev Daniel Ganizane, Mubita and I attended on behalf of the Church of Scotland, the Evangelical Church of Christ in Mozambique, the Methodists and United Church of Zambia
The Cathedral Choir sang Zulu choruses as a prelude while we gathered and then they sang the Introit: Make me a Channel of Your Peace before we were welcomed by Sister Alison Munro.
The opening prayer was given by Ms Abdia Naidoo from the Baha’i Faith while a young girl prayed for children
The Anglican Archbishop then reflected on the need to go beyond treatment and care and minister to those in need regardless of who they are and what they do. He had had a recent pastoral encounter with a sex-worker that had convicted him.
Alan Hofland, the Buddhist Representative, offered the mantra chant: Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond. Enlightenment, Hail! This protects the mind, cuts through distress and in a poetic and symbolic way helps develop and bring to mind loving kindness and compassion.
Ms Thobeka Doda then led prayers for the Youth.
The congregation were invited to stand to and respond to the Litany of Commitment led by the Swedish Lutheran Pastor REV JP Mokgethi-Heath. The Litany stressed the innate dignity and value of all human life. The congregation promised by working together to increase its efforts in responding to the HIV epidemic without tiring, to speak out against stigmatisation everywhere, to help to improve access, work to eliminate discriminatory laws and improve services and treatment for children. All this in the hope that HIV one day will no longer be a threat.
Sheikh Saleem Banda from the Muslim Community offered a Prayer of Intercession and Petition while Ms Dhunluxmi Desai gave a prayer for peace.
There then followed a very moving ceremony where each congregant was invited to light a nightlight in memory of someone who had died of AIDS. The nightlights were laid out on the chancel in the shape of the red ribbon AIDS logo and to put another aids logo sticker on a map of the world for someone living with HIV. Each pew lined up and each individual kneeling for a moment to remember as they lit the candle then rising and putting the sticker on the country where their AIDS survivor lived. While this was going on the Cathedral Choir sang Ukuthula or Peace a very powerful and beautiful South African chorus.
Ms Paddy Meskin, the Jewish Representative, shared a beautifully deep, life-affirming poem written by her father-in-law an Auschwitz survivor called Invocation and finished by singing the Aaronic Blessing in Hebrew.
Rev Mokgethi-Heath gave the benediction and we closed with the South African National Anthem.
Interfaith Services are often criticised as being fairly vacuous as they must by their nature appeal to the lowest common denominator so as not to cause offence. At this service there was a unity of spirit, definite synergy that was more than a sum of the parts. It was a call to action to tackle the lack of access, stigma, discrimination human and children’s rights. The faith community has largely been at the forefront of these interventions for greater social justice and inclusion. It was this that helped bring us together. While secular leaders recognise the crucial role of faith communities in the response to HIV/AIDS and many of our Health Associations are direct recipients for our respective countries from Global Funding and PEPFAR, it is interesting that at IAS plenary sessions while all the various other sectors and noisy bandwagons are represented, there is one missing, the faith sector. One wonders if this is a deliberate side-lining and lack of inclusion on the part of IAS’s Executive Team.