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It’s Lent and, for the first time in a long time, I actually visited a church on Ash Wednesday and am reverently observing the period by giving up coffee and chocolate.  Since my early objections at a young age to certain criteria required of the faithful, I have always considered myself to be spiritual rather than religious; but many recent life events have led me to re-examine religion and explore it on my own terms.  Rifling through my writing archives this evening, I stumbled upon this response to an email conversation with a colleague on this topic during Lent last year:

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, circa Easter 1911

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, circa Easter 1911

Recent events in the realm of reproductive health as well as a thoughtful examination of the core values of many of the world’s organized religions are exhibitive of the powerful role that religious leaders can play in preventing the transmission of HIV.  The everyday lives of many individuals and communities around the world are informed by their religion’s teachings; and as religious leaders are guided unwaveringly by their sacred text, they themselves are viewed as trusted and unfailing sources of information and advisement.  For many people in developing countries, western medicine’s scientific evidence is associated with the “White regime” and considered to be highly suspect in comparison to the irrefutable, sacred text of their religion and the advice of their religious leaders.

I have the pleasure of working with a group of HIV-positive mothers in Dakar, Senegal; and at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning, imams in Senegal officially declared their support for contraception, including condoms.  These islamic leaders are deeply respected as steadfast holy men who lead their communities throughout their lives, offering guidance and support through birth, marriage and death; and the imams explained their show of support by stating, “What’s good for a woman is good for her family, and for her society.  We want healthy societies.”

I was personally raised in the Catholic faith, and I was taught both in church and in my Catholic school that being a good Catholic means showing respect and care for those around us.  I firmly believe that condom use exemplifies the deep care and respect that one has for oneself, as well as one’s partner.  Using a condom demonstrates a belief in the right that every person has to live a full and healthy life, the right to plan a family and the right to choose what is best for ourselves and our own bodies.

When considering religious institutions such as Islam and Catholicism, using condoms is not against their core values – it supports them.  Pope Benedict XVI has even stated, “where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, [condom use] can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”

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