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Latino Churches outreach to congregants living with HIV/AIDS

An emerging core of Latino pastors in Chicago who are becoming more involved in HIV education and prevention by planning special church services, providing free testing, forming support groups and offering spiritual care. Though many Latino churches initially were reluctant to respond to the AIDS epidemic, a new study of Latino congregations in Chicago found that more clergy have become involved, many of them motivated by a connection to someone with AIDS or by receiving pastoral training.

The study, released this month by the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, was based on extensive interviews with 175 Roman Catholic priests and Protestant pastors in Chicago who lead congregations where Hispanics constitute a majority.

The researchers found that 86 percent of clergy at Chicago's Latino churches have known someone with AIDS. The majority of those people, 71 percent, were either church members or relatives of church members.

More than half of Latino churches were found to have engaged in some activity to address the AIDS crisis. But of those churches, only 14 percent offer comprehensive services for congregants living with HIV or AIDS. The remaining churches surveyed, or 48 percent, were not involved any AIDS efforts.

The study also found that if a church was heavily involved in HIV-related activities, it was likely the pastor knew someone living with AIDS. Edwin Hernandez, principal investigator for the study, said training was another key factor that pushed clergy to get more involved.

"Training makes a big difference," Hernandez said. "It mobilizes congregations to be more involved in HIV-related activities, makes them more sensitive to these issues. There is less stigmatizing going on. It really just opens the doors for a welcoming environment and for trying a ministry that perhaps has not been tried before."

Hernandez said the study provides potential lessons for public health officials who could partner with churches to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

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