Person living with HIV grateful for priest’s hug and acceptance
MANILA, Philippines – “Ignore me and my vestment. It’s the campaign to break the stigma.”
This was the heartwarming message of Fr. Alvin Pila of the Malolos Diocese after embracing Joross de Vera, a person living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (PLHIV), during the Grand Marian Procession on Sunday, December 2, in Intramuros, Manila.
“I was not expecting any of them [to approach me] since it was a procession at baka bawal humiwalay sa kanilang mga grupo,” De Vera said. (I’m thinking that they are not allowed to leave from their groups.)
In an interview with Rappler, Pila admitted he was hesitant at first to approach De Vera. But upon seeing the smile on the priest's face, he gave him a hug.
“It’s the Jesus’ way. Namimili ako kung i-cross ko ba siya? Lay hands, kawayan lang? Pero nasa isip ko na kung nandito si Jesus, yayakap 'yun,” Pila shared. (I was choosing between giving him a sign of the cross? Or just laying my hands on him. Or merely waving at him? But I thought that if Jesus was here, he would give a hug.)
According to Pila what he did was an act from his heart since he belongs to an institution that is also wounded and weak but was saved by the love of Jesus. He added that more love would end the sitgma on PLHIV. (READ: ‘Stop HIV shaming’: When status is not the story)
In 2017, UNAIDS has recorded an estimated 68,000 Filipinos diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and the numbers continue to rise. According to the Philippine National AIDS Council, in 2018, as many as 32 Filipinos are diagnosed daily with HIV/AIDS. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Global HIV/AIDS cases still on the rise)
De Vera told Rappler that he was grateful for the gesture of Fr. Pila, which he said was a “a big deal and that it conveys a message of acceptance.” He recounted that Pila even whispered to him saying: “Jesus loves you and the church loves you.”
The heartwarming photo went viral online, commending Pila's act. As of this writing, the Manila Red Cross Youth's post has gotten more than 5,800 reactions and over 4,700 shares.
Some netizens appealed for public understanding and love for PLHIV.
For De Vera, stigmatizing will only cause harm. He said everyone should embrace each other regardless of health status. (READ: 'We will win this': Advocates call to end HIV, AIDS stigma)
“Break out of the tradition and stand up for what is right and true,” he said. – Rappler.com