African religious leaders admit shortcomings in AIDS fight
Yesterday was the first day of Nairobi's World Conference on Religion and Peace, in which more than 150 Roman Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders gathered from 30 African countries to discuss the church's role in combating AIDS.

The leaders admitted that they have remained too silent and passive as the epidemic swept through their countries and congregations. Leaders said they dragged their feet in education against AIDS and, despite their grassroots networks, had failed to support governments in combating the disease.

The group voiced the church's shortcomings in a declaration of principles:

We have been reluctant to speak openly about HIV/AIDS and have thus at times contributed to the silence and stigma that surround the disease. We have allowed fear and denial to prevent us from getting good information and education about HIV/AIDS and, in turn, sharing that information with the members of our conference.

The religious leaders vowed new activism in the fight against AIDS and to show compassion to victims, especially to AIDS orphans. "Some leaders are still afraid of them," the Rev. Jane Nuthu, told The New York Times. "They don't want to touch them."

The religious leaders also remained firm in their beliefs that abstinence, not contraception education, is the best means to fight HIV and AIDS.

"We started with condoms and have been flooded with condoms, and HIV is still spreading," Roman Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan told the Associated Press. "We believe it is possible for children to control themselves. We are teaching them that they are not animals, and they can control themselves."

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