The severely disfigured man who was tenderly embraced by The Pope in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican has spoken for the first time about the experience.
Vinicio Riva, 53, of Vicenza in Italy’s north, suffers from neorofibramatosis, a genetic disease, which leaves him covered in lumps from head-to-toe.
When Pope Francis kissed, embraced and blessed Mr Riva after his general address at the Vatican on November 6, the images went viral with comparisons of Pope Francis to his namesake, St Francis of Assisi – the revered 13th-century holy figure known for his kindly nature and love for the sick and poor.
The pontiff’s hug was ‘like paradise’, Mr Riva told Mail Online.
“He didn’t even think about whether or not to hug me. I’m not contagious, but he didn’t know that. But he just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love,” Mr Riva said.
“He came down from the altar to see the sick people. He embraced me without saying a word. I felt as though my heart was leaving my body.
“He was completely silent but sometimes you can say more when you say nothing.
“First, I kissed his hand while with the other hand he caressed my head and wounds. Then he drew me to him in a strong embrace, kissing my face.
“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.”
He was so emotional and his hearts was beating so fast that Mr Riva turned to his 68-year-old aunt Caterina Lotto, who was with him at the Vatican, and said: “This is going to kill me”.
Mr Riva, who was expected to live to the age of 30, did not suffer from the condition until he turned 15. He has undergone multiple operations on his heart, throat and eyes. [NL]