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, reports The Catholic Herald.
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.