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A beautiful service was held at St Matthews in the City in Auckland to commemorate the AIDS Memorial vigil on May 20. Coming together since 1983 to remember the brave men and women who have battled and lost the fight against HIV and AIDS, the memorial is about paying tribute and looking ahead towards a future that is stigma and HIV free. This year’s ceremony embraced that deep bond with the efforts of all those who have passed and the many endeavours of those who are presently trying to change the tide on how HIV is perceived, treated and understood. The theme for 2018 was ‘Reflecting On Our Past, Preparing For Our Future’, encouraging involvement, remembrance and a reduction of stigma.
A beautiful Mihi by Kaumatua in Roopu, Karakia/Whakatau kicked off the ceremony. Welcoming the guests and opening the space, it was a very sobering and beautiful way to start off the service. The ceremony was introduced by Michael Bancroft, the guardian of the AIDS memorial quilts and a long-devoted supporter of the HIV community in New Zealand. His words focused on the many souls we have lost and the work we still have to do. Departing from the convention of lighting the candles at the end of the service, he invited attendees to light them at the beginning to have them shine through the service and remind us constantly of who we were there to remember.
Mark Fisher, the CEO of Body Positive then spoke some words about the importance of community involvement, the need to overcome stigma and the focus of the event: to remember those who have left us to soon. He was followed by Positive Women Inc’s Health Promoter, Judith Mukakayange, who spoke about her own journey as a positive person and how Positive Women Inc has been a support and friend to her during the good and hard times.
An uplifting rendition of Home was then sung by the Gay and Lesbian Singers (GALS), melodious and hopeful. The floor was then taken by two speakers of the Positive Speakers’ Bureau, Lyn and Nigel who spoke to the audience about what living with HIV has been like for them and how they have fought against stigma and looked forward to a life full of love and possibility. They spoke about how the Positive Speakers’ Bureau has empowered them and educated so many about HIV.
Representatives of Rainbow Youth then read out some deeply moving messages from the Governor General and others, encouraging the audience to keep strong in the fight against HIV. Positive words with lasting impact. GALS then followed once again singing ‘Into the West’ and filling the cathedral with a solemnity that brought reflection and hope. Michael Bancroft then closed the ceremony, letting everyone know that the AIDS Memorial Quilts were on display and could be viewed.
Auckland Rainbow Community Church was kind enough to provide some delicious soul food with hot soup and fresh bread. The cathedral provided a safe and welcoming space for such a reflective occasion. Whilst the yearly candlelight vigil is a time to remember those who have passed, their legacy lives strong always.