Regina Mundi helps my fight

Regina Mundi is latin for ‘Queen of the World’ and is amreference to the Virgin Mary. During the apartheid era the Regina Mundi church opened its doors to anti-apartheid groups and provided shelter to anti-apartheid activists. Because of the shelter it offered, Regina Mundi is often referred to as ‘The people’s church’ or ‘The people’s Cathedral’.

Yesterday, together with my choir DUZE Nomshikashika, I visited Soweto just to get to know its culture and important history in the apartheid struggle. We ended our afternoon at Regina Mundi with a rehersal with its choir. It was very beautiful and I was very touched singing in a famous Church with a local choir. All my youth memories from my Catholic church came back.

As I was wearing my HIV stigma fighter t-shirt an eldery man from the choir asked me “tell me, why are you wearing that t-shirt?” I answered him how important it is to fight the stigma around HIV and I bravely told him my story. He said “Wow, your story is very encouraging, you should share it in church. Many people, they stop believing as they think that God does not excist anymore”. He said that on Sunday he would introduce me to the Lady who does the announcements in the church.

I went back to our hostel, very excited to share my story in a Catolic Church in South Africa for the first time in my life! The same evening I got disappointing news that a few choir members were very worried the church would not welcome me to share such a story as it is not done in South Africa and that I would put shame on the choir’s name. I could not believe it, because I trusted everyone. First I went to my room and I cried very hard, then I called my husband just to be there for me.

After calming down, it was time to fight back! I went to the chief of our choir and I shared my feelings about this news with him. I told him that I felt stigmatized and that I wanted to fight back, not let it pass. Luckily he understood me very well. We sat together with the people that expressed their concern and talked about it. The solution we agreed on was to talk to the priest about my story and ask him permission to share it in the church. If he would say no, then I would deal with it and not blame the choir from stopping me to share my story.

This morning, the chief and I went to the priest and I was asked to explain what I wanted; “I want to give thanks to the great work God has done for me 16 years ago after my HIV diagnosis”. The Priest listened carefully, with eyes that showed understanding, and then he said “Normally we never give a special testimony during our service , but I will give you 5 minutes”. I was very grateful for this answer.

It seemed God spoke to the priest, as his preaching matched my story. It was about leprosy and how this led to ostracising sufferers in past times. Well, for me this was an incredible opening and when the Priest called me to join him, I felt a fire burning inside me. I knew my message would be well received in this church.

I began by referring to the Priest’s wise words and mentioned that in many parts of the world, these days HIV /AIDS is still considered as Leprocy a long time ago. I shared my story about how I came to South Africa from Angola to find treatment, how God answered my prayers of having children without HIV, and how God granted me many more days and years since I was 25 and now almost reaching 43. I reminded the church that God loves us all, even people with HIV/AIDS. I finished my story by telling that whoever has the disease, it is not a punishment. Continue treatment and continue to take good care for yourself. You are not alone. God never forsakes you!

I could read on peoples’ faces how my message was touching them. They could not wait for the end of the service to come and hug me. I immediately heared about one of the church’s choir members whose daughter has the same age as me and who also has HIV, and another lady said her young sister has HIV for 15 years . When I almost went into the bus to join my choir, a long term survivor came to hug me.

I am grateful for my choir to give me this opportunity and help me to find a way to share my story. Today taught me that it is important to keep on fighting and share the story of people that have to face stigma day in day out. Just like the brave people of South Africa fought apartheid, eventually HIV stigma will be beaten.

Peace, Eliane

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