Pope Francis stunned the world with his simple yet incredibly touching act of embracing a severely deformed man covered in tumors earlier this month. Now, that man is being identified as Vinicio Riva, 53, from Vicenza, Italy.
Riva told Panorama, an Italian magazine, that he suffers from von Recklinghausen’s disease, a disorder that impacts cell growth. In an exclusive interview, Riva shared information about his disorder, his background and what it was like to interact with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square.
"I tried to speak to say something but I was unable to," Riva said of his encounter with Pope Francis, according to a translation of the interview that was provided by Time magazine. "The emotion was too strong. It lasted a little longer than a minute but it felt as if it were eternity."
He added, "He touched my face and when he was doing it, I only felt love."
As TheBlaze previously reported, images of his encounter with the pontiff quickly went viral, inspiring individuals around the globe.
According to CNN, Riva was just as surprised and moved as the rest of the world. He told Panorama that he was "most astonished" over the fact that Francis didn't think twice about embracing him. While he isn't contagious, he noted that the pontiff didn't know that at the time.
Riva reportedly lives with his 46-year-old sister who also suffers from a less-severe case of the disease. Despite his appearance, one of Riva's aunts told Time that the disorder is not life-threatening.
In fact, the man reportedly enjoys a number of activities, including volunteering, watching soccer and enjoying time with his friends.
Riva, who said he has felt ostracized at moments because of his disease, began experiencing symptoms of von Recklinghausen’s disease (also known as Neurofibromatosis type 1) when he was just 15 years old.
According to the Mayo Clinic, neurofibromatosis is a “genetic disorder that disturbs cell growth in your nervous system, causing tumors to form on nerve tissue.”
(H/T: Time Magazine)