Italian Red Cross carries Olympic torch…a flame of hope for all

From: “” 1 February 2006

The Olympic torch has almost completed its long journey from Greece to the city of Turin, in Northern Italy, where the 2006 Winter Olympics will take place from 10 February. On 29 January, thousands of people gathered in the nearby city of Milan to welcome this symbol of the Olympic movement as it made its way through the city centre. Among those who had the privilege of holding the torch, two people also had a special message to carry. The president of the Italian Red Cross, Dr Massimo Barra, ran with the flame among hundreds of cheering Red Cross volunteers and passed it to a person living with HIV, Cinzia Merlonghi, bringing a sign of hope to all people living with HIV/AIDS who are confronted daily with stigma and discrimination at all levels (both in their personal and professional life).

Dr Massimo Barra is well-known in Italy and abroad for his work in combating discrimination and supporting vulnerable groups. Founder and director of the Villa Maraini rehabilitation centre for drug users in Rome, he has been involved in the Red Cross Movement since the age of eight. He is a former vice president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and now serves as Chair of the International Federation Development Commission. Cinzia Merlonghi is an active social worker in the street unit harm reduction programme run by the Italian Red Cross and Villa Maraini. She is a former drug user who has successfully undertaken a rehabilitation programme with the Villa Maraini. She is considered by many as a shining example of the way the Italian Red Cross provides support for the most vulnerable and enables them to rebuild their own lives and help others. “This event represents a significant message of hope while the Olympic torch is making its way through Italy, carrying some of the fundamental principles of our Movement, especially in the fight against intolerance,” said Dr Barra.