The following comes from a December 3 Catholic News Agency article by Adelaide Mena:
The early days of the AIDS epidemic of San Francisco marked a time of fear, uncertainty and suffering. But amid the anxiety and confusion, those in need of treatment and care found one of their biggest advocates and supporters in the Catholic Church.
“I always think it’s one of the great secrets of San Francisco County that Archbishop Quinn and Catholic Charities reached out very early on in the epidemic to serve people who had HIV and AIDS,” said George Simmons, senior program director at Catholic Charities Assisted Housing & Health in an interview with CNA.
Among the groundbreaking elements of the Church’s response, Simmons said, was that “(t)he Catholic Church was the one of the first with programs for Women and Children.”
As the outbreak was just beginning in San Francisco, information about the virus was lacking. All that was clear was that people were in need of help.
“Much was done in the early days,” said Deacon Jeff Burns, recently retired archivist for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He pointed to Father Michael Lopes, OP, who set up an initial office of AIDS ministry at the Archdiocese, which included the formation of an AIDS hospice and programs to educate local communities on the disease and decrease fear and stigma.
One of the local parishes at the center of the outbreak – and response – was Most Holy Redeemer, located in the Castro District, a prominent LGBT neighborhood in central San Francisco. Father Tony McGuire, former pastor of Most Holy Redeemer described in an oral history video for the parish what the community experienced as the epidemic broke in the 1980s.
Although “a number of people” were leaving the parish, devotion to the Eucharist was revived at Most Holy Redeemer as a response to the AIDS crisis. During a liturgy meeting, Father McGuire recalled, a parishioner asked where a parish tradition of 40 hours of exposition and worship of the Blessed Sacrament had originated and why it had stopped. Father replied that while the devotion had faded in the parish over time, he thought it had started when a plague hit San Francisco.
“Well, we’ve got a plague going on, why don’t we do the 40 Hours?” the parishioner responded.
The exposition, which was joined by local religious sisters and Archbishop Quinn, made a deep impact on the parish, Father McGuire recounted. “The 40 Hours became a kind of turning point,” he said. The devotion and exposition “became a way the community responded, both in prayer and in service to a great need.”