In 1991, Angelo went to a Rome hospital to donate blood. This was how he found out he was HIV positive.
“I cried in desperation,” he said. “But after a while something was unleashed in me that told me to have courage and to fight for something that was worth fighting for.”
He now lives in one of Caritas Romana’s three “family houses” which are set in park land in an exclusive residential suburb in Rome. Apart from a home, Caritas also provides Angelo with food, help with expenses, medical care and access to a psychologist.
Locals were originally opposed to the family houses being given over to people with HIV and AIDS. But after a tough battle by Caritas Romana founder, Don Luigi Di Liegro, the houses opened their doors on 5th December 1988.
Angelo, thinks that attitudes haven’t necessarily changed that much towards people with HIV and AIDS over the past 20 years because they are put in categories that are sometimes unacceptable to society.
Despite this view, he says that when he told the colleagues where he used to work that he had HIV they were fine about it and he suffered no stigma. Although he says the illness itself can be discriminatory because it can sometimes come from a “past of errors”.
Up to 120,000 people are thought to be living with HIV in Italy, over 23,000 of whom have AIDS.
Something that Angelo thinks is quite worrying is that while fewer drug addicts are getting HIV, more and more heterosexuals are becoming infected, and more and more older people.
“It’s because there is a crisis in the family,” he says.
Angelo’s own family can’t help take care of him. His father died and his mother has to take care of his brother who has psychiatric problems. Caritas has been helping him since 1997.
He says that he’s only had two real health crises because of his illness. In 1997 his immune system was near collapse.
“I read on my clinical cards that my life was in danger,” he says. “I just grabbed onto the Lord with all my strength.”
Then in the early 1990s he had a bad reaction to the AZT drugs which preceded antiretrovirals (ARVs) and he lost the use of his arms and legs for one month.
Nowadays Angelo keeps symptoms under control using ARVs. He doesn’t work but he keeps busy. Caritas provides activities such as pottery in the mornings and Angelo indulges in his passion for reading in the afternoons. He also enjoys doing theatre and is a big fan of Rome football club.
He loves Roman history and if he goes back to work, he’d like to become a tour guide.
Angelo says he has always been very open about having HIV, but he says he wishes other people he knew with HIV could share his candidness and have the courage to be open to others about their status.
”We’d present more of a united front,” he says. “We’d put up more of a fight – not that we have to make war or anything…”