ROME — Oreste Tornani, a man with a severely disfigured face who was blessed by Pope Francis at a recent general audience, says he felt very close to the Holy Father at their encounter.
The two met briefly on Nov. 20, following the Pope’s address in St. Peter’s Square, as Pope Francis spent several minutes greeting the sick who were in attendance.
“The Pope speaks very simply, cordially and with a warm voice, and it’s nice to hear him,” Tornani told CNA.
“When I met him, he asked me how I was, how things were going, if I had any problems and where I was living,” he said.
During their encounter, Pope Francis kissed him and gave him a blessing, making a gesture towards heaven.
Tornani explained that he was working as a mechanic in a manufacturing plant at the age of 30 when he was shot in the face. Although he survived and underwent numerous surgeries, his face was left completely disfigured.
Now 60 and unemployed, he receives assistance from the Maria Cristina Ogier Association, a Catholic center in Florence, Italy, which helps the poor and needy.
Pope Francis’ embrace of Tornani was not the first time such an act by him drew widespread attention.
During World Youth Day, the Pope blessed a newborn baby girl suffering from anencephaly, a condition in which part or all of the brain is not developed.
And on Nov. 6, also following a general audience, the Holy Father greeted Vinicio Riva, whose neurofibromatosis has covered his body with painful growths.
Riva told the Daily Mail later that month that being hugged by the Pope was “like paradise … 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.”
Such papal warmth has contributed to Time magazine’s choice of Pope Francis as 2013 “Person of the Year,” as the publication noted he is changing the “tone and perception” of the Church.