'It was like being in Paradise. I felt only love': Terribly disfigured man who was held by the Pope in moment that moved the world is revealed as Italian, 53, who has been sick since childhood
- Vinicio Riva has been ravaged by neorofibramatosis
- Growths began to develop when he was just 15
- His sister Morena suffers from lesser form of disease
- Their mother died from the same horrific condition
- Met Pope Francis in St Peter's Square earlier this month
The severely disabled man, who is shunned in the street, and has induced horror even in his doctors, has for the first time described the encounter, saying that being caressed by Francis was like ‘being in Paradise’.
He told Italian news magazine Panorama he was left speechless when Pope did not hesitate to touch him.
He said: ‘His hands were so soft. And his smile was so clear and open. But the thing that struck me most is that there has not been thinking about whether or not to hug me. I'm not contagious, but he did not know. But he just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love.
He recollected the meeting of a fortnight ago: '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.'
Mr Riva was accompanied to the Vatican's St Peter's square by his aunt, Caterina and his younger sister Morena, who also suffers from a lesser form of the disease.
The meeting with Francis marked a new beginning for him he said: ‘Later I turned to my aunt and told her: "Here I leave my pain"'.