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Confronting AIDS With an Arsenal of Education : Religion: KCET and the Catholic Church cooperate on ‘Lights of Hope,’ a program informing Latinos about the disease--but all is not yet forgiven.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On Sunday, KCET Channel 28 plans to air a half-hour program about church leaders--mostly Catholic--who are reaching out to help the Latino community cope with AIDS. But the Archdiocese of Los Angeles--still smarting over KCET’s decision to air the short film “Stop the Church,” about a demonstration by AIDS activists at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York--says the new program will not serve to mend fences.

“They sent us a copy and asked us if we would help them get together an audience to view it,” said Father Gregory Coiro, spokesman for the archdiocese. “But I don’t detect any thaw (in church-station relations), to tell you the truth.”

“Lights of Hope,” which was produced by Richard Parra and Suena Productions in cooperation with KCET’s educational services department, is aimed at the Latino community and carries a message that both churches and individuals must have compassion for people with AIDS.

Airing at 7:30 p.m., it includes interviews with Spanish-speaking people who have found solace at church from the emotional pain wrought by the disease, and it shows pastors pleading with their congregations to educate themselves about AIDS.

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“As we together face the tragedy and the reality of AIDS, the Hispanic community looks to the church and to their faith for guidance, understanding, love and support,” says the program’s narrator. “Even in the darkness there are lights of hope.”

The program features pastors and congregants from Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian and Methodist churches and was filmed in San Antonio, Tex., New York and Los Angeles.

Although it will air on KCET in English, the program was originally produced in Spanish for airing on the Univision network. The Spanish-language version, “Luces de Esperanza,” will air in the near future on KMEX Channel 34.

KCET says that “Lights of Hope,” which was funded by the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control, was in the works long before “Stop the Church"--filmmaker Robert Hilferty’s controversial look at last year’s disruption of a Catholic Mass by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power--became national news last summer. The group was protesting church policies on AIDS, which include opposition to the use of condoms and disapproval of homosexuality.

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In August, “Stop the Church” made headlines when PBS decided to pull it from a collection of short advocacy films slated to air on the series “P.O.V.,” whose name stands for “Point of View.”

After KCET decided to air the film as part of a 90-minute discussion program on the Catholic Church’s positions regarding AIDS, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony described “Stop the Church” as an anti-Catholic hate film and urged Catholics and others to consider withdrawing financial support from the station.

According to David Crippens, senior vice president of educational enterprises at KCET, “Lights of Hope” was finished last July, weeks before the controversy over “Stop the Church” began.

In the program, Crippens said, “We’re trying to show, from a culturally sensitive point of view, that here is a disease that minorities don’t want to talk about. And then we’re very subtly saying, ‘You, too, can be involved.’ ”

“Lights of Hope” is one of four programs produced by KCET about the Latino community and AIDS, station spokeswoman Laurel Lambert said. Crippens said that its producers “didn’t even know about ‘Stop the Church.’ ”

Its air date, which coincides with World AIDS Day, was set nearly a year ago, Crippens said.

Still, officials at KCET acknowledged that the program might be perceived as an attempt to make peace with the archdiocese.

“We never want to appear to be pandering to any group,” Crippens said.

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“We certainly hope it won’t be taken that way.”

Indeed, despite the request by KCET executives for Catholic Church support with “Lights of Hope,” the station’s insistence that the program not be taken as atonement for “Stop the Church” seems to have been accepted at face value by the archdiocese.

“One looks at the program and says, ‘Is this an olive branch? Is this an attempt to make amends?’ ” Coiro said. “I don’t think it is.”

And even if the program deals with the church’s positive contributions to the fight against AIDS, Coiro said, it doesn’t make up for the wrong the archdiocese believes was done when KCET aired “Stop the Church.”

“There’s no question that a great number of the things that KCET does are excellent, and this is one of them,” Coiro said. “But I don’t think the cardinal was ever taking issue with the fact that they do a wide variety of programming. The cardinal was taking issue with the fact that you had a film that was, to most impartial observers, anti-Catholic.”


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