By Paul Shalala
A 47 year old Anglican Priest, who is living with HIV has taken to social media to encourage positive living and discourage fellow clergymen from stopping HIV positive congregants from taking Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ARV) drugs.
Reverend Stuart Bweupe, the priest in charge at Kabwe North Parish, has been posting Facebook and WhatsApp messages asking people to accept their status and live peaceful lives. He has lived with the HIV virus for eight years and says he has survived because of ARVs.
Reverend Bweupe says it is wrong for any man of God to stop people from taking the life saving drugs because they prolong life. Meanwhile, the clergyman, who was deserted by his wife in 2007 when he was found to be HIV positive, says he has suffered stigma even from within his church which resulted in him being stopped from presiding over mass.
In conservative Zambia, it is uncommon for a man of God to publicly declare their HIV status. He is probably the only Zambian Anglican Priest to openly declare his HIV positive status. For Reverend Bweupe, it is a mission he aims to win.
And his mission is to make his experiences become lessons for others. “While presiding over mass on a Sunday in 2007, I suffered a stroke in front of the church and the incident is what led to me knowing my HIV status,” said Reverend Bweupe. Despite being a man of God, his own church and congregants distanced themselves from him.
“After I was found to be HIV positive, I suffered stigma. My own church stopped me from presiding over mass. It was painful. People were talking and laughing at me.” He did not just suffer stigma at church, even his own wife of 12 years deserted him in 2007 soon after he was found to be HIV positive. According to Anglican rules, a clergyman cannot remarry in a given period of time.
But after waiting for authority for eight years, Reverend Bweupe has been granted the right to remarry. On Saturday, the clergyman married Edith a Kabwe-based teacher at a colourful ceremony in the former mining town. As he studies for his Honours Degree in Theology at Saint Johns University in Kitwe, Reverend Bweupe looks focused on helping other people overcome stigma in society.