From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Support needed to continue retreat ministry to HIV/AIDS patients

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the April 12, 2001 edition of the Inland Register

Father Tom Mele, pastor of St. Thomas More Newman Center in Pullman, is looking for donations to help continue “Strength for the Journey,” a retreat program for those who live with HIV/AIDS.

The two annual retreats are sponsored by the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Washington State. Father Mele joined a retreat leadership team in 1998.

The combined cost of the UMC’s two retreats is about $19,000. However, the church was only able to budget $13,000 this year, and Father Mele is now working to raise the extra money. He sent out letters of appeal, with a goal of $2,000, but he hopes to raise more from the Catholic community and others. The hard fact is that the retreats might not take place without the additional funds. Father Mele believes in the importance of the retreats and wants to see them continue.

Father Mele’s appeal letter quoted C.S. Lewis: “More is learned in life through suffering than through joy.” Because of their suffering, he said, AIDS victims develop a spiritual depth that “permeates their stories in ways I’ve rarely encountered in my more than 20 years of ministry.”

Slightly more than 500 people in Eastern Washington have been diagnosed with AIDS since 1983, when statistics began to be tracked. The total number of people diagnosed with AIDS in Washington state is 9,532, a figure which does not include those who have been diagnosed as HIV-positive. Of those diagnosed with AIDs, about 55 percent have died.

Many people with HIV/AIDs are reluctant to admit their medical condition to family and friends. HIV/AIDS patients often are stigmatized, shamed and rejected. To those who live with the disease, the retreats are a blessed opportunity, giving them a time away from their struggle with the disease that may someday claim their lives.

An average of 25 persons attends each retreat and so far, about 300 persons have participated since the program began in 1993.

Retreat team membership is ecumenical. One Catholic group participating is the social justice committee at Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman. Father Mele expressed his admiration for the team’s single-minded focus: making a difference by caring for their hurting brothers and sisters.

Father Mele also expressed his admiration for students at the Newman Center at Washington State University who have gotten behind his request. “I’m really impressed with how they have taken this on,” he said. “Susan (Adam, youth director) and I just mentor and guide them.”

Three student groups and others in the Palouse area held a benefit dinner and talent show April 7, with the proceeds going to the retreat fund. The student groups included St. Thomas More Newman Center, WSU; the St. Augustine Student Center, University of Idaho; and the students at the Common Ministry, also known as K-House.

Financial support can be made sent to Father Mele at St. Thomas More Newman Center, P.O. Box 2070 CS, Pullman, Wash. 99165-2070. Make checks payable to Strength for the Journey Retreat.

But there are a variety of other ways people can help. They can donate homemade cookies, snack foods, white elephants gifts or even brief notes of encouragement that are given out during the retreat. Call Father Mele at 509-332-6311 for specific information.

The next retreat is scheduled for June 4-8. Those interested in attending can call Father Mele.

Program trains caregivers for AIDS patients
The Spokane Multifaith AIDS Care Teams were developed by the Spokane Diocese’s Social Ministries Office. The ecumenical program trains caregivers for people who live with HIV/AIDS.

Three teams were formed from the first training session held at St. Aloysius in 1999, and other teams were trained at a second session held at Temple Beth Shalom last year.

Each team is matched with an AIDS patient assigned by the Spokane AIDS Network or the Spokane County Health District to assist the patient in whatever they may need — friendship, transportation, shopping or spiritual and emotional support.

Persons who would like to volunteer for one of the teams can get additional information by contacting Scott Cooper at the Parish Social Ministries office: 358-4273.

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