The Annual Do Not Fear To Hope Retreat occurred over Labor Day weekend and was an opportunity for those with HIV and AIDS to reflect, focus, and develop a closer relationship with God. Led by Fr. Bob Warren, S.A., the retreat welcomed over 50 participants and was a unique opportunity for those struggling with HIV and AIDS to develop a community and learn from one another about how to cope with this often misjudged disease. Many attendees also attend monthly support groups at Graymoor.

“[We] understand that the HIV virus is a medical virus and not a moral one. If you tell people you have cancer, you get sympathy. If you tell people you have HIV/AIDS, you get judged. At Graymoor there is no judgment, only compassion,” says Fr. Bob Warren, SA, founder of Do Not Fear to Hope.

Founded at the request of people it serves, Do Not Fear To Hope has provided thousands of people in the HIV/AIDS community with resources including: over 1,700 support sessions/ meetings, more than 60 retreats and nearly $1.2 million in urgent or emergency care. The ministry continues to grow since its founding in 1988, further demonstrating the need for the Church to be what Pope Francis referred to in 2013 as a “field hospital after battle.”

The ministry focuses on connection and building a community, but before that work begins the Friars put a special focus on the value of the individual they encounter. Many, if not most, attendees have been marginalized and have been the target of discrimination. As the Friars work to show compassion to each attendee, they demonstrate to the individual how every person is dignified because they are created in God’s image.

The approach, although simple, is revolutionary in an age where outer appearance is often mistaken for a person’s worth. The Friars have had such success with the ministry that in 2013, Fr. Bob Warren and Do Not Fear To Hope were honored with the International Franciscan Federation Peacemaker Award. This award is given for providing care and support for a marginalized community of people.