By Paul Dobbyn
Caritas Internationalis special advisor on HIV/AIDS and Health, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, has been impacted on several levels by the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight tragedy in the Ukraine.
Mons Vitillo, also Caritas Internationalis Head of Delegation to the United Nations, is in Australia to attend two HIV/AIDS conferences being held in Melbourne.
The monsignor was about to attend the first conference, a Catholic pre-conference on HIV/AIDS when The Catholic Leader spoke to him on Friday July 18.
Earlier that day, he had discovered that a number of associates enroute to Melbourne to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference were killed aboard the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight that crashed in the Ukraine.
There were scores of AIDS activists, researchers and health workers on board the ill-fated flight.
Quite unsettling also for Mons Vitillo was that he had only been in the Ukraine the previous Friday.
“I was there to observe the response of the Catholic Church to those living with HIV/AIDS there,” he said.
“The conflict there is causing many additional hardships to these people including in some cases the inability to get medication.
“I also got the chance to observe how much Caritas Ukraine is doing to help those displaced by the current conflict in the region.”
Mons Vitillo, while noting that any loss of life was tragic, said the deaths of so many world experts on HIV/AIDS “would be a terrible loss to the scientific community, those living with the virus and their carers”.
Mons Vitillo is giving a presentation at a Catholic pre-conference on HIV/AIDS at the Catholic Leadership Centre in East Melbourne from July 18 – 20.
Pre-conference presentations are also being given by former Ambassador of Australia to the Holy See Tim Fischer; chair of CHAN (Catholic HIV and AIDS Network) Father Rick Bauer and Asia/Pacific Regional Director of UNAIDS Dr Steve Kraus.
In memory of the victims of the Malaysian air crash, Caritas Australia president Archbishop Philip Wilson will preside over a Mass as part of the Catholic pre-conference.
The Mass will start 9am Sunday July 20 at St. John the Evangelist Church, corner of Victoria Parade and Hoddle Street.
Mons Vitillo will then go on to attend and give a presentation at the 20th International AIDS Conference which runs from Sunday July 20 to Friday July 27.
It’s estimated that the Catholic Church provides as much as 25 per cent of the care worldwide for people living with HIV, especially in developing countries.