VATICAN CITY — At the end of the Nov. 6 general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis drew attention by warmly embracing a man who suffers from a rare disease causing neuronal tumors all over his body.
The man was identified as suffering from neurofibromatosis, which causes great pain and can result in impaired vision, learning impairment and even cancer, according to the nonprofit research group Mayo Clinic. Treatment of the condition is very complicated.
People with this disease — which is genetic and not contagious — often face discrimination because of their appearance.
As he carried out his typical greeting of pilgrims at the conclusion of the general audience, Pope Francis paused for several minutes to receive the sick man in his arms.
Moments later, he took the man’s face in his hands, kissed him and gave him a blessing.
The gesture is the latest in a series of actions by the Holy Father that have drawn attention for their warmth and affection towards the marginalized in society. Previously, the Pope made headlines by visiting imprisoned youth, responding to letters with personal phone calls and inviting the local homeless to dine at St. Peter’s Square.