Last week Italian newsweekly Panorama ran a
profile of the man behind the photograph that may very well become one of
the defining images of Pope Francis’ papacy. Readers will remember it, I am
surea man severely disfigured by tumors was
embraced by the Holy Father after his general audience address on November
The identity of the man, believed to suffer from
neurofibromatosis, had up until now been a mystery. His name is Vinicio Riva,
and he is from Vicenza, in Northern Italy.
from CNN’s Belief Blog:
whose head and neck are covered with tumors due to a rare disease, said his
unusual appearance has led to a lifetime of living on the margins.
is, until he showed up at St. Peter's Square on November 6.
went to Rome on the advice of a friend with whom he travels to Lourdes, the
Catholic shrine in France visited by thousands of ailing and infirm pilgrims
meeting Francis, Riva said he kissed the Pope's hand. Then the Pope pulled Riva
toward him, hugging the 53-year-old Italian and kissing his face.
continued, "I tried to speak, to tell him something, but I couldn't: The
emotion was too strong. It all lasted not more than a minute, but it seemed an
first signs of the disease began when he was 15, Riva said, and since then, he
has often felt ostracized because of his unusual appearance.
the Pope showed no sign of discomfort as he approached, said Riva. Instead, the
pontiff's face broke into a calm smile.
what most astonished me is that he didn’t think twice on embracing me,"
Riva said. "I’m not contagious, but he didn’t know. He just did it; he
caressed all my face, and while he was doing that, I felt only love."