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Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo is Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS for Caritas Internationalis as well as being Head of the International Delegation in Geneva.
On behalf of Caritas and other international Catholic organisations, Fr Vitillo spearheads advocacy that promotes a more just and practical response to the pandemic by governments, churches and international agencies.
We asked him some questions.
Q: When did you become involved in HIV and AIDS?
Fr. Vitillo: I first started to work on HIV and AIDS in 1987 when Caritas Internationalis decided to focus on the pandemic as a priority area.
Q: That’s a long time. How did your work start at the beginning?
Fr. Vitillo: At first, the partnering task was among the Caritas members. A strategic and ongoing programme of education about HIV and AIDS was undertaken through global, regional, national and local seminars.
Caritas has now reached far beyond its usual partners in order to promote an effective response to HIV and AIDS. In order to animate greater solidarity with people living with or otherwise affected by HIV and AIDS,
Q: What drew you to working on HIV and AIDS?
Fr. Vitillo: As communities of Christian believers sent on an apostolic mission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus to all who would listen to it, churches must teach the truths that God loves all men and women equally, without regard to HIV status. In a similar fashion, churches are called to be servants, most especially of the poor and vulnerable. In many parts of the world, people with HIV can be regarded as the poorest of the poor, and thus have a right to demand compassionate and non-judgmental acceptance and care.
Q: What are your current priorities?
Fr. Vitillo: We send out information, we promote solidarity in support of HIV care, support, treatment, and prevention programmes, we carry out advocacy on the global, national, and local levels for a more comprehensive laws and policies to assure full access to care, treatment, support and education among those living affected by the pandemic, and we discourage stigma and discrimination.
Q: What does the job involve?
Fr. Vitillo: I plan regional consultations and meetings of theologians and ethicists, develop Church-based programmes worldwide, keep donors informed of the funding needs of partners in the field, carry out advocacy work at the UN and at an international level, and provide briefings and background to Bishops and the Vatican for their statements and action plans.
Q: Are there any signs of progress?
Fr. Vitillo: Yes. Research I’ve done in South Africa and India shows that the Catholic Church has really taken a leadership role in providing access to prevention, treatment, care and human rights. Faith-based organisations can play a huge difference in tackling HIV and AIDS and so it is rewarding to see that happen.