In what might be an unprecedented act - and extraordinary sign of affection, a Catholic from Minneapolis, Minnesota, embraced Pope Francis during a private audience, reports NCR/Ucanews.
The lay initiated gesture, considered unthinkable in earlier pontificates, represents another verification of the way Francis has touched peoples’ hearts as well as a papal informality he has generated and encouraged as Pope.
Gene Frey, a Trustee at University of St Thomas in the Twin Cities, was part of a Papal Foundation delegation visiting Rome on May 1. He hugged Francis in a reception line.
During the audience, Francis expressed his gratitude to the group. He singled out in particular its assistance in helping to train; a new generation of leaders whose minds and hearts are shaped by the truth of the Gospel, the wisdom of Catholic social teaching and a profound sense of communion with the universal Church in her service to the entire human family.'
'Amazing is an understatement,' said Frey by telephone from Rome hours after he embraced the Pope. For weeks he had spoken to friends about his deep affection for Francis and the human urge to hug him. He wanted to be respectful, but also wanted to share with Francis a human embrace. Given the opportunity, he had said he just might go ahead and act on the spirit within.
The opportunity came following the formal part of the audience when Frey came to the head of a reception line accompanied by his wife, Mary. First, the men shook hands.
'Then I looked into his eyes and asked, "Holy Father, can I embrace you?" I thought the word "embrace" would best translate into Spanish that he could most easily understand. He then he put his arms out - and we hugged. As he embraced Francis his wife, Mary, placed her right hand on Francis' left arm.'
Hug for Pope Francis from a Catholic layman (NCR/Ucanews)