Jim Matarazzo reflects on what he learned from meeting the people whose stories are featured in Prayer alone is not enough (1.86MB PDF)

When I was invited by Progressio to write a report on people’s stories of HIV and faith, I had some ideas about what the experience would be like having worked on faith-based responses to HIV for several years. Yet the reality was profoundly different from any of my past experiences.

The interviews (in Yemen, Zimbabwe and El Salvador) were deeply intimate, often disturbing and sometimes shocking. People answered my questions with bold honesty – and such honesty can carry serious personal risk.

For example, in Yemen, bringing dishonour to one’s family or clan can result in one’s death – yet people shared information with me that could have had this tragic outcome.

In Zimbabwe, interviewees often sharply critiqued the government authorities.

In El Salvador, people complained about the powerful gangs that give the country one of the highest murder rates in the world.

In the almost 60 interviews that I conducted in the three countries, I was constantly humbled – but also deeply impressed by the bravery of the participants. I would argue that the source of their bravery and their ability to persevere under impossible circumstances is grounded in their faith.

In fact, I found myself frequently reflecting on how I, as a person of faith, would cope if I was in their shoes. I thought of the biblical dialogue between Job and his wife. In Job’s misery and loss, she said, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)

I asked myself whether I would despair, curse God and die if I had to endure what these persons endure. I don’t have the answer to that question, but I can say that they all maintained their integrity and trusted that God was with them.

Above all, my experience confirmed for me that working with faith leaders and faith communities is vital in our response to the HIV pandemic and, to quote the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, it is “an effort that God blesses, that God wants; that God demands of us.”

Jim Matarazzo researched and wrote the Progressio report Prayer alone is not enough: People's stories of HIV and faith (1.86MB PDF).

Photo: Jim with Guadalupe Isabel, one of the people he interviewed in El Salvador. (Photo © Progressio)


Jim, I found your report and your blog both very moving and thought provoking.   Thanks for your honesty.


The stories of some of your interviewees showed a gulf between their experience of church institutions and their personal faith. For many living with HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe in particular, it seems that while the Church is excluding and demonising them, they are still directly experiencing 'the hand of God' in the unexpected kindness of others or turns of events in their lives.

Clare Jeffery

Progressio contributor