Katie Craine


Disfigured man embraced by Pope Francis: ‘I felt only love’

Katie Craine

VICENZA, Italy, November 19, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A severely disfigured man who was embraced by Pope Francis earlier this month has described his experience that day in an interview with the Italian news magazine Panorama.

“My head was against his chest his arms were wrapped around me. It lasted just over a minute, but to me it seemed like an eternity,” the man, Vinicio Riva, told the magazine. He described the embrace as "like paradise."

Riva, of Vicenza, Italy, traveled to Rome with his aunt and sister to see Pope Francis. He attended the pope’s weekly general audience and approached the pope afterward to kiss his hand. Pope Francis embraced Riva, and kissed his face.

Riva suffers from a rare genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes painful non-cancerous tumours to grow on his entire body.

“His hands were so soft. And his smile was so clear and open,” Riva said about the pope. “But the thing that struck me most is that there has not been thinking about whether or not to hug me. I'm not contagious, but he did not know. But he just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love.”

Riva added: “Later I turned to my aunt and told her: ‘Here I leave my pain.’”

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Alex Schadenberg, International Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition commented on the pope’s actions, saying, “As a father of a son with a disability, I was profoundly moved by the love expressed by the Pope when he embraced the man with a disability.”

“The Pope did not offer a paternalistic embrace but rather an expression of brotherly love for this man as a human person,” Schadenberg said. “In this world, so many people say – ‘I wouldn't want to be like that person’ - the Pope responds by embracing this man in full equality as a person whose life is sacred and worth living.”

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