Candlelight in Spain: A Political Force

By Ferran Pujol, Executive Director, NAMES Project, HISPANOSIDA
I was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986 when I was 27 years old. Some years later I learned about the NAMES Project Quilt, and in 1993, founded the Spanish NAMES Project in Barcelona with the help of Michael Meulbroek (my partner who is also HIV positive) and a couple of friends. In May 1994, we organized Spain's first Candlelight Memorial (CLM) in Barcelona. The conjunction of the AIDS Quilt and the CLM made a powerful combination to raise awareness and visibility about HIV and AIDS.
Facing the ignorance and indifference of society, thousands of people in Spain were dying from AIDS, Celebrating the CLM over the years in Cathedral Square, the center of Barcelona where thousands of people ramble around, made them familiar with the big problem that my country was facing. Since that very first year, the CLM is covered widely by the media and has become very popular. Over the years, politicians, actors and other key social actors joined the celebration making of the CLM the most important social event related to AIDS in Spain, even more than World AIDS Day on Dec.1.
The Candlelight Memorial makes people confront death and loss in a healing way. There is a very moving and special moment at the end of every Memorial that still impresses everybody and leaves no one indifferent. It is the moment when thousands join with candles and read the names of those left behind. The minutes of silence observed after the reading are probably the most effective campaign against AIDS.
During the celebration of CLM in 1998, we organized an international European display of the AIDS quilt. Hundreds of quilt panels were shown and representatives of 12 European countries gathered in Barcelona. I remember the impact that made among the general public with the quilt panels dedicated to Romanian children. Another very special and moving CLM was the one we organized in May 2002. It was the first official community activity of the International AIDS Conference that took place in Barcelona in July of that year. The following year, we created and inaugurated the first permanent Spanish AIDS Memorial grove in Barcelona. Since 2003, part of the activities of the annual CLM has taken place at the Montjuïc Park (the biggest and most significant park in Barcelona where the AIDS memorial grove is located).
CLM is More than a Memorial Barcelona's CLM is attended every year by the most important political authorities: the city's mayor, the minister of public health, and others. They are totally aware of the political power of the Candlelight, which yearly constitutes an unavoidable confrontation with AIDS.
Every year, more than 50 Spanish AIDS NGOs gather in Barcelona. Without doubt, the award of the medal of Barcelona to the NAMES Project Spain in 2005 was a political decision. More and more people get infected by HIV every day. In Spain, HIV is still spreading among the most vulnerable populations. The prevalence among gay men is estimated to be above 20 percent. At the same time the CLM raises awareness about AIDS as a global problem and shows its worldwide devastation.
I have continued my advocacy work in AIDS with the opening in January 2006 of the first checkpoint for gay men in Spain (BCN Checkpoint) where people can be tested free and anonymously for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in a comfortable and safe environment. I counsel people living with HIV/AIDS, and I am involved in treatment activism at a national level through my work in the Spanish Federation of AIDS. Thinking that I've been promoting and organizing the CLM during the last 14 years without a break, and forming part of an international movement, is something that really empowers me at the hardest moments - especially when I feel tired.
Ferran Pujol has been a Candlelight coordinator since 1994.
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