MANILA - A photo of a priest embracing a person living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has gone viral on social media.
In a Facebook post, Fr. Alvin Pila of St. John of God Parish in San Rafael, Bulacan said he was hesitant at first to hug the person holding a sign which read "Free Hugs, I'm HIV+"
"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?" Pila told ABS-CBN News.
"And it happened. I realized that I'm there hugging a fellow human suffering. Even God, even Jesus embraced our littleness and weaknesses."
Pila told persons living with HIV that "we are equal in God’s mercy."
"Ignore me and my vestment. It's the campaign to break the stigma. The Church loves you. Jesus loves you," he said in another Facebook post.
Pila, who has a Radio Veritas program every Friday, also urged the laity to be "channels of God’s mercy and love."
"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," he said.
"Talk to them, console them, love them. We are all children of God, we are his family and family is love."
According to Facebook user Geoff Domingo, the Intramuros Grand Marian Procession passed by the Philippine Red Cross Manila Chapter on their World AIDS Day observance last Sunday.
As of posting, the photo has garnered more than 3,000 reactions and 1,905 shares.
According to the HIV/AIDS and Art Registry of the Philippines (HARP), there are 59,135 HIV-positive individuals in the country.