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Disfigured man describes moment he met Pope Francis

By on Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Pope Francis with Vinicio Riva

Pope Francis with Vinicio Riva

The Italian man suffering from the genetic skin disease neurofibromatosis who was embraced by Pope Francis earlier this month has spoken of his joy at meeting the Pontiff.

Images of the Pope kissing and embracing Vinicio Riva in St Peter’s Square made headlines around the world, but his identity and background weren’t known until two Italian news outlets found and interviewed him.

“My heart was bursting,” he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. When the Pope hugged him tight, he said he “felt like he was in paradise.”

Riva, 53, lives in a small village near Vicenza in northern Italy with his younger sister Morena Riva, who has the same genetic disorder, and their aunt, Caterina Lotto, who cares for them. The siblings’ late mother also suffered from the disease, which is typically hereditary.

Riva told the Italian magazine Panorama that the thing that struck him most was that the Pope didn’t hesitate at all.

“I’m not contagious, but (the Pope) didn’t know that. But he did it: He caressed my whole face and while he was doing it, I felt only love,” he said.

“First, I kissed his hand, while he caressed my head and wounds with his other hand. Then he pulled me toward him, hugging me tight and kissing my face. My head was against his chest and his arms were wrapped around me. He held me so tightly, cuddling me, and he didn’t let go.

“I tried to speak, to say something, but I wasn’t able to: I was too choked up. It lasted just a little more than a minute, but, for me, it seemed like forever. The pope’s hands are so soft. Soft and beautiful. And his smile (is) bright and wide.”

Neurofibromatosis results in numerous, often painful benign tumours. Riva, whose body is covered in these tumours, said they constantly itch and he often wakes in the morning with his shirt soaked with blood from scratching.

“The first signs (of the disease) appeared after I was 15. They said I would be dead by 30. Instead, here I am,” he said.

He frequently has been shunned by people who didn’t know him, he explained. The worst episode, he said, occurred one day as he sat in the front of a bus and a passenger told him to go sit in the back, saying, “You horrify me and I don’t want to look at you”.

“No one, not even the driver, came to my defence. In fact, many passengers agreed with the man. That really hurt,” he added.

Lotto, his aunt, told Panorama that when she and Riva would be sitting in hospital waiting rooms when he was young, she would hold him close and hug him tight whenever people cringed or moved away in fear.

She embraced him “to make them both (Riva and the others) understand” there was nothing repulsive or scary about him, she said.

Riva said that he has lots of friends and is loved by almost everyone in his village. He goes out with friends for pizza and to watch football matches.

He also flirts with the nurses, the magazine said, and, although he only earns a small allowance volunteering, he spends a good chunk of that money on them.

  • Bangersandmash

    A truly moving account and indicative of the best of Catholicism: compassion for the poor and the afflicted. Well done, Pope Francis and may Riva and his sister find peace of heart and soul.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    Would we have seemed as repulsive to God when He walked on Earth? But He became one of us. And He died for us.

  • Atilla The Possum

    If anyone wants to see the authentic Roman Catholic Church out its money where its mouth is, this photograph is it.
    (yes, including those prominent, stuck-up atheists who want statistics, measurements and documentary proof on everything)
    I absolutely love this picture of Pope Francis and Vinicio Riva. It touched my heart and brought a smile to my face.
    It flies in the face of those up-their-own-crevice government ministers who regard the sick, disabled and vulnerable people as a bunch of no marks who are to blame for the world financial crisis and a drain on society’s purse.
    It’s always refreshing when, once in a while, there are individuals who (unintentionally) turn this vain, politically correct, tan-sprayed, image-obsessed world on its head.

  • Atilla The Possum

    Er, sorry, I’ve just spotted a typo – ‘…Roman Catholic Church PUT its money where its mouth is…’

  • f.m.b

    your highness, i’d like to refer Mathew Ch4 vs 1-11 wherein Holy Christ was tested by the spirit. as i had mentioned in one of my earlier comments now the Lord has thrown open to us so many miracles like medicine, technology, telecommunication, etc., and now the role expected of our Rev. Pope is only to lead the Vatican as a spiritual leader so that further believers do not go astray. this could be by acts showering love which need not be by outwardly wherein the evil spirit would like to test our father by promising advertisement either to the individual or to the institution.last time it was the small boy when our Pope was discussing about the role of the grand parents.now this disfigured man. italian judges have already been described to be corrupt by one research paper on corruption by I.B.R.D and one judge has already issued a veiled threat to our Pope. In addition to this these are the days of antichrist as a man from argentina the same country from which our Rev.Pope hails has married a tree. another christian in tamilnad, india has filed a suit against the church stopping usage of the translated liturgy in masses as ratifiction has not been obtained from the Holy See. thus as it is visible christians themselves are acting against the church and it will be better in case our Pope acts as is expected of him as a religious leader and not to get tempted thereby putting at risk his own self and the future of our Churchh

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Let us all pray for our good Pope Francis that when he touches or embraces sick people they get cured through the power of our God and Lord, Jesus. Does he not represent the Lord on earth for us? Did not Peter whom he has succeeded heal the lame man in the name of Jesus? When such cures and miracles start happening the world will believe in the quality and value and worth of our Church.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    You know What St.Francis of Assisi, the present Pope name-sake did with a leper?

  • f.m.b

    miracles in case performed with the help of evil spirits will it be accepted? do not put our Rev. Pope to tests.Love need not be expressed by outwardly actions alone. it could be expressed by charity acts, funds raised through which, could be donated to deserving countries. Love could also be expressed among the bretheren of the whole world by interfering at the correct time like our Rev. Pope did when the civil war was going on in Syria. We have come a long way from the days of St.Peter. The way above thoughts have been expressed the reader it seems wants to convey the thought that in case our Pope’s name was Antony at the time of the unexplained suicide of the Vatican bank CEO he would have expected the ghost of the dead CEO to come and reveal the reason for his suicide to the whole world. Now it is said with the advanced technology thieves are becoming wise and in case the police need to control them should become wiser.By applying the same logic anti church elements are becoming wise and in case Vatican should be there to spread the word of the Lord and his love the church should become wiser. We all accept that Rev. Pope is our religious head, ie the Head of all the Roman Catholics spread world wide and will the same act be expected from any other political leader, only because of the reason that our Rev. Pope is there to spread love.Already the Church is full of news about the misdeeds by the priests and the nuns which also needs to be controlled by our Pope in addition to the role expected of him as the religious head to perform which responsibly Pope should act wise and should know to differentiate between the guidances and the temptations which could be supported by our prayers.

  • Benedict Carter

    Poor suffering soul. May God bless and protect this man. And well done the HF for having given us this example.