Filipinos were amazed when a priest hugged a young man who declared that he has human immunodeficiency virus or HIV in the midst of a Catholic procession in Intramuros, Manila.
He had a placard that declared he is HIV-positive but at the same time, was giving “free hugs” to break the stigma associated with people who have HIV.
De Vera was hugged by several people, including Fr. Alvin Pila of the Malolos Diocese who was part of the annual Grand Marian Procession which happened to pass by the headquarters of the Philippine Red Cross.
The Catholic procession honors the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which takes place every first Sunday of December at the Plaza de Roma in front of the Manila Cathedral.
Pila admitted that he initially hesitated to approach De Vera because of the placard that declared the latter is HIV-positive.
The priest said in an interview:
“I think it’s Jesus’ way, with the people smiling waiting what will this priest do next? Namimili ako kung i-cross or bless ko ba siya, lay hands? Kawayan lang? Ang nasa isip ko, kung nandito si Jesus yayakap ‘yun, so sino ako para hindi sundan si Lord?”
“And it happened. I realized that I’m there hugging a fellow human suffering. Even God, even Jesus embraced our littleness and weaknesses.”
“HIV is non-contagious with hugs or handshakes. Let us break the stigma. They are humans like us, with illness but when treated well, they can live normally like us.”
“Talk to them, console them, love them. We are all children of God, we are his family and family is love.”
Pila shared another Facebook post where he supported the “Pedal for HIV” campaign and wrote:
“Ignore me and my vestment. It’s the campaign to break the stigma. The Church loves you. Jesus loves you.”
De Vera shared that he never expected participants of the procession to approach him since he perceived they are not allowed to veer off.
“I was not expecting any of them (to approach me) since it was a procession at baka bawal humiwalay sa kanilang mga grupo,” he said in a separate interview.
De Vera added that the priest’s heartwarming gesture was “a big deal and that it conveys a message of acceptance.”
As of 2017, UNAIDS revealed that there is an estimated 68,000 adults and children in the Philippines who have HIV.
Dr. Joselito Feliciano, the director of the Philippine National AIDS Council, disclosed in September 2018 that as many as 32 Filipinos are diagnosed with HIV on a daily basis.
The deal with HIV
HIV is a virus that spreads through the exchange of certain body fluids, usually in sexual acts. It can also be transmitted through blood, breast milk and infected syringes or needles.
If untreated, the virus can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system in a gradual manner until the body is no longer capable of defending itself against infections and diseases.
The virus has three stages: The acute HIV infection, clinical latency, and AIDS.
While symptoms vary from every stage, an individual may experience “flu-like” characteristics after two to four weeks of being infected. He or she may have fever, swollen glands, sore throat, rash, headache, and muscle and joint pains.
HIV is incurable but it can be controlled through constant medication. Infected people need to take antiretroviral drugs on a daily basis to prevent the virus from spreading.
Common misconceptions are that it can be transmitted through hugging, hand-shaking, closed-mouth kissing, mosquito bites, and through the air.