I have to say that I am officially impressed with Chicago. I think the city has that something that gives it character. For the National Black Catholic Congress, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency by the river. I was not all impressed by the level and quality of service. In July I stayed at a hotel called the Metropolitan in Toronto for World Youth Day and in April I stayed at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal for the Continental Congress on Vocations. It is either that the Hyatt chain is not that great or that the level of service in Canada is just better, but the Hyatt just fell short of the mark. It was really little things that dropped it a few notches in my view. For instance, the service was not consistently pofessional and friendly and helpful. Sometimes you dealt with people who were absolutely wonderful and at other times, the people you dealt with made you feel like you had "bum" written all over your forehead.
I will say that I had a very positive experience with the convention services department. We had set up an exhibit in the exhibit hall for the Black Congress, and by and large, the experience was a good one. The exhibit that I was involved in was the National African American Catholic HIV/AIDS Task Force. The purpose was educational, to increase the awareness of the devastation of AIDS in the black community, especially in the Black Catholic community. Generally, AIDS exhibits do not do well in attracting people because no one wants to stop at an AIDS booth. However, we rented a popcorn machine and gave out free popcorn. All people had to do to get popcorn was to fill out a five questions HIV/AIDS quiz. Here's the quiz (slightly modified)
1. AIDS is the leading cause of death among black men ages 25-44. True or False
2. Babies cannot be born with HIV. True or False
3. A person ordinarily cannot contract HIV/AIDS through kissing. True or False
4. A person can have HIV but not AIDS. True or False
5. Of the 40,000 new cases of HIV infections, over 50% of those are among African Americans. True or False.
1. True!!! The situation is that dire. AIDS is the leading cause of death for black men between the ages of 25-44
2. False, Babies can be born with the virus.
3. True, the virus cannot survive in saliva and there are very, very few if any documented cases of contraction through kissing. However
, if there are bleeding gums or cracked lips, that's a separate issue and the risk increases exponentially. This issue has become of significance in the Catholic Church because people are nervous about drinking from the cup after someone who is infected with HIV. Also, people with HIV have been shunned during the sign of peace, because people think that HIV can be contracted through casual contact or a kiss of peace, etc.
In the black community the silence has been a terrible problem, yet the virus is tearing through our communities at a blistering pace. What needs to happen is that preists, pastors, leaders, ministers, etc need to break the silence from the pulpit and create an open and positive environment in their church or parish so that we can begin to deal with this problem. The stats for black women is also getting to be horrendous, I'll try to dig up my fact sheet and post them.
One interesting experience I had was that I was in conversation with a Catholic lady who I found was on a state board of Planned Parenthood. She said that PP actually teaches abstinence to young children. We both were talking about a statistic we heard at a workshop at the Black Catholic Congress which said that a significant percentage of 12 year olds had had sex at least once. She said that Planned Parenthood studied the issue too and found that the principal reason that these young girls were having sex was PRESSURE from the boys. She related the experience of one girl whose "boyfriend" asked and asked and asked and begged and begged and begged and pleaded and so on, so much so that all she could do was let me have it so that he could leave her alone. And then afterwards, she wanted to commit suicide. This lady said that PP is now targeting girls at much younger ages and working to help them develop self esteem so that they don't have to succumb to boy pressures during those young formative years. I thought that that was quite interesting.
I hope that within the next two years, every parish would develop an AIDS ministry. It is the leprosy of our day, it bears its stigma and carries a banner of hopelessness with it. But the one person back in the day that the lepers could come to was Christ. We need to be Christ today. There has to be something about Christians that would make those infected willing to come to us.
Slight Change of Subject: I was speaking with a director of a diocesan Gay/Lesbian office and I asked what the pecentage of gay people in the general public. I don't recal the numbers, he either said that is was 5% or 10%. What was interesting was that he said that however, in the Catholic Church, the numbers are twice that of the general public, for whatever reason. Interessant!
Different Subject: At the Black Catholic Congress and even at the last one in 1997 there was an effort to include Black Catholics from Latin America. This time we had Afro-Latinos from Brazil, Panama, Ecuador, Honduras and Columbia. Here's a fact that I just learned: Brazil has 76 million black people
. I always knew that Brazil had the largest number of Blacks outside of Africa but the number is staggering. They account for about 46% of the population. Another fact: Columbia is 44% black! Did you know that. The disturbing aspect though, is that blacks in Latin America also experience systematic discrimination.
The one unique thing about Afro-Latinos is that the slaves that were brought there were left in groups where slaves of similar cultures and beliefs remained together, unlike the slaves brought to the U.S., who enroute, were intentionally intermingled so that they would be culturally isolated. For this reason many elements of African culture exist wholesale in Afro-Latino communities. For instance, the Yoruba people of Nigeria have a diety called Sango the god of iron(?), you'll find the exact same diety in many Afro-Brazilian communities. In fact the Catholic Church is now facing a serious issue there. Afro-Brazillians, who are mostly Catholic, were neglected for so long and many of their Afro-practices were blended in with Catholicism and now the Catholic Church is trying to negotiate this issue. It is all so fascinating and I hope that some day the stories of all blacks in the diaspora can be told so that we can have a complete history of the slave trade.
I have yacked long enough. Possible lite blogging in the days ahead until next week. Peace!