November 18th, 2013
12:17 PM ET

Disfigured man embraced by Pope: 'I felt only love'

By Daniel Burke and Livia Borghese, CNN

Rome (CNN) - The photo roused emotions and sparked conversations around the world - but the man at the center of the image says the moment left him speechless.

"I tried to speak, to tell him something, but I couldn't: The emotion was too strong," says Vinicio Riva, the disfigured man embraced by Pope Francis in images that went viral earlier this month.

"It all lasted not more than a minute, but it seemed an eternity," Riva told the Italian magazine Panorama this weekend.

Riva, whose body is covered with tumors due to a rare disease, said his unusual appearance has led to a lifetime of living on the margins.

That is, until he showed up at St. Peter's Square on November 6.

Riva went to Rome on the advice of a friend with whom he travels to Lourdes, the Catholic shrine in France visited by thousands of ailing and infirm pilgrims each year.

After meeting Francis in St. Peter's Square, Riva said he kissed the Pope's hand. Francis then pulled Riva toward him, hugging the 53-year-old Italian and kissing his face.

MORE ON CNN: Why the Pope's embrace is so powerful

Riva, who lives in Vicenza in northern Italy, said he suffers from neurofibromatosis Type 1, which causes painful tumors to grow throughout his body. His younger sister and late mother also suffered from the rare disease, Riva told Panorama.

The first signs of the disease began when he was 15, Riva said, and since then, he has often felt ostracized because of his unusual appearance.

But the Pope showed no sign of discomfort as he approached, said Riva. Instead, the pontiff's face broke into a calm smile.

"But what most astonished me is that he didn’t think twice on embracing me," Riva said. "I’m not contagious, but he didn’t know. He just did it; he caressed all my face, and while he was doing that, I felt only love."

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Faith • Health • Pope Francis

soundoff (829 Responses)
  1. Observer

    Dodo has zillions of questions and no answers. She uses hundreds of names to mask her motives. She hates Jews.

    I am her worst enemy. I am far superior to her and she resorts to deleting and running to avoid reality.

    November 30, 2013 at 4:17 am |
    • Observer

      Too bad athies have no clue. We know Jesus. They no dodo.

      November 30, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  2. Observer

    Cured? Of what? His bent to sin? Who knows? Sounds like god touched him through this man. That is healing, beloved. I no. Been there.

    November 30, 2013 at 4:08 am |
  3. Science Works

    well lol?? from the UK

    Gay snub Cornish B&B owners lose Supreme Court appeal


    November 29, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • lol??

      Who cares what happens in the UK?? Dr Who?? Are you ignoring the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine??

      November 29, 2013 at 9:37 am |
      • Science Works

        Well there is always that exorcist bishop in IL.

        Be gone Satan- over same se-x marriage where it is LEGAL.

        November 29, 2013 at 9:44 am |
        • lol??

          Dan 7:4
          The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.

          Those were English wings.

          November 29, 2013 at 9:52 am |
        • Science Works

          And the SECOND one no gods required.

          Second Planetary System Like Ours Discovered

          by Shannon Hall on November 27, 2013

          Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/106759/second-solar-system-like-ours-discovered/#ixzz2m3RzzSWV

          November 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  4. lol??

    Civil rights – same thing. Gay marriage is a civil rights issue, like it or not."

    No it's not. Pharisees make big bucks presenting civil defense arguments.

    November 29, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • midwest rail

      Yes, it is. You'll lose this battle too, and you cant stand it.

      November 29, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • lol??

      Abe didn't buy a license from Sodom and Gomorrah for licentious behavior. Who "won??" there?? You don't see the big picture.

      November 29, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • midwest rail

      Non sequitur response. You bemoan "gubmint marriage" at every turn, knowing full well that your disdain for same is only recent. You are a morally inconsistent hypocrite and a liar. But you already knew that.

      November 29, 2013 at 9:11 am |
      • lol??

        Oh, okay, thanks.

        November 29, 2013 at 9:33 am |
        • midwest rail

          Anytime, hypocrite.

          November 29, 2013 at 9:47 am |
        • lol??

          Have some more turkey, cannibal.

          November 29, 2013 at 10:49 am |
        • midwest rail

          Just finished some, thanks. Don't you have some defamatory "news stories" to invent so you can slander people thru innuendo ?

          November 29, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  5. danielgriswold

    Reblogged this on Daniel Griswold Thought This and commented:
    This resonated in my deepest soul. I'm thankful that God gives us the ability to touch the lives of others, we are all created to be loved, and that collectively God has given us the possibility to get beyond our tribalism, indifference, and ignorance. This Pope is on the wavelength and I'm glad Catholicism has such an amazing example of living out Faith. Let's not let the Pope so all the good work. This is a challenge (a good one) to all people. Get out there and reach out to the whole world.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  6. jakat

    The gesture of "healing" was surely the Pope's mission with this man, and that's a beautiful thing to see. In trusting this mans misery to the Higher Power of God, the pope had no concern for cosmetic appearances in this man, rather to bring a union together, not with the man but between the man and the goodness the Higher Power brings. This man may not have all his problems solved, but he is on track to let the bond the Pope creates take place between his soul and the Grace of the Lord. Some call that metaphysics, but the Pope in his 'act' was just under the duty of his appointment. That in itself can bring change (for the good) to this man, as well as the Pope himself. These are things that I should explain in volumes of books, rather a quick paragraph here, and the simplistic reality the atheists "put on the table" don't have a clue of this or many other rituals and their meanings or duties of hierarchy along with tons of other formal and informal doctrine within the Catholic church, or they wouldn't be trying to capture the peoples through billboards that produce comical mockery. Keep it real, put God where he belongs in your head & heart, guided not by man and comedians, but through doctrine originated by God Himself through Jesus. That's about as real as real is.

    The 1st part of news today on the Pope, that he is calling for change and taking some of the things every day people don't know of or understand, making the church more understood is well and fine. I find it hard to take 2000 years of "Truth" brought to you through the "Son" of God, which has never been UNproven, meaning; there never has been concrete proof that Jesus didn't live or rise or bring to the Apostles the "Word of God" to be passed down to the generations. To change the doctrine of the church is dead wrong. In changing some of the old Latin passages to the language of the audience is fine. To explain in that language the rituals of church procedure is fine, but to make a "jive an' groove" rap tune out of the Mass is not proper or wise. Do not change for the sake of change itself, or even for drawing attendance, which in turn draws donations, or leave it all behind and go start over on your own with the whole thing. Some things are Sacred and not to be played with, and the Pope may be crossing that line with his planned changes in the church because what it is happens to be 2,000 years old and "out of style" Styles are for pagans, and making a church around them is not Catholicism.

    November 27, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  7. erks

    That was very nice of the pope, so has that guy been cured now?

    November 27, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  8. Horus

    No sinner has it. God's love.

    November 26, 2013 at 2:42 am |
  9. Kate

    Here's important Prophecy about THE ILLUMINATION OF CONSCIENCE predicted by Virgin Mary in Garabandal in 1961. It will take place soon to save the world.


    To prove to all that God exists.
    To bring everyone back to Jesus and the way of the truth.
    To dilute the impact of sin and evil in the world through conversion.
    To help save us before the final day of judgement by giving us a chance to ask for forgiveness for the sins we have committed.
    To convert non-believers who would have no chance of redemption without this great act of mercy.
    To strengthen the faith of believers.


    Every one over the age of 7 will experience a private mystical encounter with Jesus Christ which will last anything up to 15 minutes
    It is a gift from God the Father to convert people back to the truth. It is how the Final Day of Judgement will unfold only this time you will not be condemned. Instead you will be given a chance to ask for forgiveness.
    Two comets will collide in the sky.
    People will believe it to be catastrophic worse than an earthquake But it is not – it is a sign that Jesus has come.
    The sky will turn red it will look like a fire & then you will see a large cross in the sky to prepare you first.
    Atheists will say it was a global illusion. Scientists will look for a logical explanation but there won’t be one.
    It will be spectacular and will not hurt us because it comes as an act of Love and Mercy from Jesus.
    Our sins will be shown to us and this will make us feel tremendous sorrow and shame when they are revealed to us. Others will be so sickened and shocked by the way in which their sins will be revealed that they will drop dead before they have a chance to ask for forgiveness.

    Everyone will see the state of their soul before God – the good they have done in their lives, the grief they have inflicted on others and all that which they failed to do.
    Many people will fall down and cry tears of relief. Tears of joy and happiness. Tears of wonder and love.
    For, at last, it will be possible to live a new life thereafter when we know the full truth.
    Jesus is now asking everyone to pray for those souls who will die of shock who may be in mortal sin. Everyone needs to prepare now. Jesus asks that all ask for the forgiveness of their sins in advance of The Warning.

    More info and Prophecies for all of us – http://www.thewarningsecondcoming.com

    November 25, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      And the fortune tellers continue to wreak stupidity upon the world !!!

      November 26, 2013 at 7:40 am |
  10. Sean Lynch

    I no I'm terribly frightened of some big brute of masculinity who thrrtins a woman from her computer.

    Can u spell p r I s o n?

    November 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Sphere

    I just thought I'd check in and see if the hypocrisy card has been played lately.

    November 23, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  12. typically

    Most of the time!!

    November 23, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  13. Science Works

    But the real problem with the dogma is....

    The RCC destructive force with their biblical stand on procreation.

    When they supposedly understand evolution.

    November 22, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • lol??

      Science understands evolution?? Nah, ya just have to BELIEVE.

      "“If you think you understand [evolution], you don’t know nearly enough about it.”
      Michael LePage 2008, New Scientist"

      November 29, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  14. Snow

    wow.. ocean is really a pretentious pr*ick.. isn't he.. Full of himself with "better than thou" atti*tude that is so against the religion he "claims" to follow. If the god he believes in listens to his mind even for a few mins, he would be as disgusted as every other human being.. So unlike the god (and his pope) that he claims to follow.

    November 21, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Jude Maverick

      He has never stated what he himself believes....a fact I find interesting.

      November 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • YanYing

        They know that what they are doing is wrong and seek to hide their true motives, but one only has to read what they write to tell that they are just nasty little sleazeballs.

        November 21, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
    • beyond compare. 2 no that u r loved

      Thanks CNN. How typical! Give that PR. Ic k snowball a raise and delete love is patient. U deserve every precipitous drop in ratings with every tos violation u ignore! Lol donkey Puncher

      November 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
      • Christian

        I would guess you get deleted because you are a gigantic troll that makes zero sense in your posts.

        November 22, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
        • beyond compare. 2 no that u r loved

          I am the only mature, real follower of christ posting here. My arguments, positions, points of view, and persuasiveness are too much for the little athies. I love that they hate me. I take pride in it. The more the better. After all, look what they did to a lowly carpenter

          November 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
        • G'Wan

          @beyond compare...

          That's a laugh. If you'd have been around in Jesus's time, you would probably have hijacked his name, put on a wig & sandals and traipsed around looking for attention...

          November 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
        • typically

          Now stop that g wad. Not very nice.

          U still would be a donkey puncher headin for prison! Lol

          November 23, 2013 at 8:06 am |
        • Christian

          @ beyond,

          If your first post is indicative of your maturity, you obviously don't know what 'mature' means; care to elucidate your beliefs?


          Are you also beyond? You both sound like the same individual.

          What is a donkey puncher?

          November 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        I am grateful sinners r concerned that Christians may appear to be less than what sinners expect. Sinners have every right to worry that Christians may not be representing their dogma properly.

        I think you fellas r swell. Any time you sense Christians fail to measure up to your biblical standards, just donkey punch your savior

        November 25, 2013 at 6:48 am |
      • sam stone

        He gets deleted because dodo is a hacker and scared to death she's wrong about Zeus and Horus. He gets deleted because all other Christians are dodo pretending to present real arguments against atheism.

        November 25, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  15. Rosalie zeolla

    That was beautiful

    November 21, 2013 at 7:46 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.