Practical Charity

“The thing that struck me most is that he didn’t think twice about whether or not to hug me…He just did it.”

From Zenit

ROME, November 19, 2013 (Zenit.org) – The severely disfigured man who Pope Francis embraced and blessed earlier this month has said his encounter with the Holy Father was like “being in Paradise.”

Vincio Riva, 53, who suffers from neurofibromatosis Type 1, a rare disease that causes painful tumors to grow throughout his body, told the Italian magazine Panorama that meeting the Pope left him speechless.

“His hands were so soft. And his smile was so clear and open. But the thing that struck me most is that he didn’t think twice about whether or not to hug me,” he said. “I’m not contagious, but he did not know. He just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love.”

He added: “First I kissed his hand while he, with the other hand, 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.”

Images of the Pope embracing Riva at the Nov. 6 weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square quickly went around the world, and were especially prominent on social media sites.

Riva’s entire face and head are covered in growths and only his left cheek, warped as if burnt in a fire, is free of them. His feet are deformed and devastated by the sores, which makes walking difficult.

He was accompanied by his aunt, Caterina, and his younger sister Morena, who also suffers from a lesser form of the disease. His mother suffered from the illness and died from it. Riva himself was only expected to live until the age of 30.

Panorama reported that Riva first needed medical attention at the age of two for the genetic condition, and has since had numerous operations on his heart, throat and eyes. The growths first appeared at the age of 15, eventually destroying his appearance.

Neurofibromatosis has also long been associated with the “Elephant Man,” the name given to Joseph Merrick, a severely disfigured Englishman who lived in the late 19th century. Researchers believe Merrick may have suffered from a combination of neurofibromatosis and Proteus syndrome, a similar congenital disorder resulting in body tumors.  

Like the “Elephant Man”, Riva has had to suffer revulsion from passers-by and strangers. “Those who I have known for a long time are kind; the others are horrible,” he told Panorama.

He came to the general audience after making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, which he makes every year with the Italian Catholic group Unitalsi. It was the first time he had gone to St. Peter’s.

Riva said the meeting with Francis marked a new beginning for him: “Later I turned to my aunt and told her: ‘Here I leave my pain.'”

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6 Responses to Practical Charity

  1. Shadaan says:

    I asked a guy from the Jehovah’s Witness why God allows suffering and he said that it wrong to ask why God allows suffering. Look around us human, animals and other living creatures have suffered for eons from human evil, natural evil, diseases, weather or religious evil. Humans have a little mind and think of a creator God, unfortunately the God of our thinking seems to be a little thing. It is attention that allows silence to come upon the mind, which is the opening I had pain yesterday; there is the memory of it and I do not want it again tomorrow. But suffering is always there if not me than others, animals no matter what. We are told that God is good and all powerful in spite of which suffering and pain is and has always been there. If God is good, then he must not be powerful enough to deal with all the evil and injustice in the world since it is still going on. I wonder why God is not doing anything about it even though He has the capability but we all believe and have this thing called faith. To me is this word faith is an empty word, religious leaders ask us to embrace it, but look around you. We are told Jesus the son of God is coming back to save us, continue having faith, over two thousand years have passed generations waited, nothing we continue to wait because of this word called faith. An empty word will give you emptiness and that is what we are getting. Why we all not dumb founded, we are dumb about God, maybe we following a great lie, and if this is true then who is profiting from all this? I am happy that the Pope embraced Riva and it was a very good gesture. The suffering I am talking about is what Riva is going through, why he and others if there was a God. Whatever happened to miracles?

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  2. Brother Burrito says:

    Shadaan,

    Christ Crucified puts suffering at the centre of Salvation. It is only by uniting our suffering with His that we can be saved.

    Suffering is thus made the universal currency of Salvation. Even the wealthy and comfortable will have to endure suffering at some point. Their suffering will paradoxically in fact be greater than that of the poor and afflicted

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  3. Toadspitttle says:

    Francis walks the walk.

    That one brief gesture was worth twenty billion words of “dogma.”

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  4. Shadaan says:

    Brother Burrito
    You might have a point but has it ever happened to anyone or has anyone come back to indicate that salvation was there. How about the animals and other creatures, they suffer like humans and will Christ save them too or if not who will.

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  5. Toadspitttle says:

    Now, “Shadaan,” (what a lovely name, by the way, is it, perhaps, Tibetan?) no “potty mouth” on here, please.
    Or we will be forced to employ the cockleshells.
    And you won’t like that.

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  6. Such a moving image and beautiful story.

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