Philadelphia got a jump on World AIDS Day 2013 with a prayer breakfast held on Saturday for about 200 people in a ballroom of the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel. The talk was about efforts to battle the disease, the fight to preserve Obamacare and the lingering need for acceptance among those who suffer from HIV/AIDS.
Philadelphia Field Initiating Group for HIV Trials (FIGHT) piggybacked on the world event on Sunday, hosting the fifth annual breakfast featuring sermon-like speeches, prayers, music and another kind of sustenance — a free meal of scrambled eggs, sausage and roasted potatoes.
“If we fight against AIDS, we must fight against ignorance,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Louis Felton in his keynote speech. “If we are ever going to heal anybody, we must accept the virus as our own.”
Worldwide, 34 million people have human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The Philly organization’s goal is to help the more than 11,500 people living with AIDS in the city. FIGHT provides primary care services (often for free if patients don’t have medical insurance), AIDS research, advocacy and education.
In that spirit, this event was about acceptance of all those with HIV/AIDS. The organization’s executive director, Jane Shull, spoke of embracing lesbi-ans, gay men and transgendered people who felt abandoned by their communities and religious organizations.
“If the church turns them away,” Shull said, “they feel that God has turned them away.”
“I always say AIDS is an equal-opportunity off-ender,” Bishop Ernest McNear, FIGHT vice president, said. “Although it’s the poor, women, children and the disenfranchised who are the most affected.”
Felton preached that the nation was ignoring the most disadvantaged. His voice rising, he said there was a need to fight for Obamacare and to combat racism and classism in the health-care system. To treat HIV/AIDS, he said, the country should provide care to those who can’t afford it. “We cannot call ourselves Philadelphia FIGHT and not fight for health care,” he said, to loud cheers and clapping.
McNear said the prayer breakfasts would likely continue. “We’re going to keep doing this,” he said, “until this disease is gone and we don’t have to do this anymore.”
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