The archdiocesan Office of Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry and Bienestar Human Services, a grassroots organization initially established to address the lack of services for the Latino community affected by the disease, hosted an ecumenical service Dec. 1 at Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish (La Placita) on occasion of World AIDS Day. According to organizers, the celebration “Unidos en Esperanza” (United in Hope) was dedicated to the thousands of Latinos who have died from AIDS, and it offered an opportunity to raise awareness on the need for public support and programming around HIV/AIDS education and prevention. “I am here, like all of us gathered, touched by individual persons who died and challenged by individuals who now live with HIV/AIDS,” said Father Chris Ponnet, director of the HIV/AIDS Ministry and pastor of St. Camillus Center for Spiritual Care in Boyle Heights. “We gather with Maria, Fred, Chris and so many others,” he told more than 1,000 people who attended the evening service.Father Ponnet shared about a series of retreats he facilitated this year in collaboration with Bienestar, for those affected by the viral disease who struggle with their faith and spirituality.“The retreats began with the breaking of a jug as people reflected on the struggles of living with HIV/AIDS and/or being gay, lesbian or transgendered as members of our various faith communities,” he noted. “At the end of the day, the community together glued the clay pots back together affirming the United in Hope theme tonight. United in Hope we can create the space for each person and for the world where all are respected and loved.”The retreats were held in Spanish for Bienestar clients, providing “an opportunity for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients, especially those living with HIV or AIDS, to reflect on their lives and draw from their spiritual and religious traditions as sources of strength to help them in their personal journeys,” Oscar De La O, president and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Bienestar, told The Tidings.“Our collaboration stands as a strong testament of the importance of faith-based communities and AIDS service organizations working together to address the needs of those confronting this epidemic,” he added.In 2009, Latinos accounted for 20 percent of new HIV infections in the United States, with men being the most infected (79 percent), according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Although the numbers have decreased since 2006, the federal agency said there are still prevention challenges, including sexual behavioral risk factors that differ by country of birth, cultural and socioeconomic factors, increased injection drug use and fear of disclosure.Father Ponnet said in his Dec. 1 talk that although there is hope in the increased availability of medical treatment and the common goal of eliminating infection of mothers and infants, there is much more to be done.“Clearly more is needed and pressure must be kept on companies and nations to fund the ongoing research and treatments,” he said. “United in Hope we must continue to educate, advocate and keep alive the memories of the millions who have died and the millions who remain infected and affected. United in Hope we keep the stories alive,” he concluded.For more information about the archdiocesan HIV/AIDS Ministry, call (323) 225-4461, extension 221, or visit For Bienestar Human Services, visit or call (323) 727-7896.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1207/aids/{/gallery}