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Sunday, April 20, 2014
Caritas tribute to Elizabeth Taylor
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Caritas tribute to Elizabeth Taylor  | Elizabth Taylor, HIV AIDS, Msgr Robert J Vitillio

Elizabeth Taylor
Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor died today. Msgr Robert J Vitillio,  Caritas Internationalis Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS, remembers the day he met her.

Fr Robert writes: The news of Elizabeth Taylor's death brings back vivid memories of the day that she visited Caritas Rome's 'Villa Glori' residence  for people living with HIV and AIDS.

In the late 1980s, Caritas  Romana was among the first organizations in Italy to set up such a  residence. It was a time when people living with AIDS were feared and rejected, often by their own family members. Fear and rejection were  not within the vocabulary - or heart - of Msgr Luigi Di Liegro, then- Director of Caritas Romana.

One night I accompanied 'Don Luigi' on a walk through his  neighbourhood to check on the street people who camped out near his  house; he knew each by name and was interested in what they might need  and encouraged them to go to the shelter, another service maintained by Caritas Romana.

On this particular evening, Don Luigi informed me that "Liz" was  coming to visit the Villa Glori residence and invited me to be  present, since I had helped to set up and organize the residence. Ms. Taylor  was accompanied by a famous Italian fashion designer; he stayed only a  few minutes, but she made it clear that she had come to visit and  remained for almost two hours.

As soon as she started to speak  English, Don Luigi realized that he had not provided for translation -  she he shouted across the room to me, "Bob, lo fai tu! (Bob, you do the translation!)" and thus I became the  personal interpreter for this famous actress.

At first, I was transfixed by her eyes - they really were lavender in colour! But then I quickly realized that I had to pay attention to her words if I did not want to make a fool of myself but also because she  was speaking in such an affirming and caring manner to the residents.

They were well aware of her fame, but they put on no 'airs' with her -  they wanted her to feel at home, as they truly felt in this residence.  Of course, they asked her for autographs. She had no pen with her and  borrowed mine (then almost took it away with her, so I had to remind  her that the pen was my property!).  She showed how comfortable she was  with the residents by accepting a plastic cup filled with Fanta and some of the cake that was served on paper plates.

But she also listened with much respect as they recounted their  stories of drug use, life in prostitution, and various other personal  problems experienced in the course of engaging in risk behaviour that  ultimately resulted in HIV infection. Her compassionate, non-judgemental attitude was one that those of us who are HIV educators try to inculcate in trainees preparing to do counselling with persons living with or vulnerable to this virus.

Liz lived long and fully enough to cover several spans of life, but  she maintained her commitment to promote the rights and dignity and  full access to treatment for people living with HIV. May God take this  into account when she faces her Creator and, through God's loving  mercy, may the welcome she received at Caritas in Rome be repeated in eternal life.

 

 

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Tags: Elizabth Taylor, HIV AIDS, Msgr Robert J Vitillio