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Rest in peace, Vincenzo, and thank you

Vincenzo Riva

RealyEasyStar/ Fotografia Felici | Alamy Stock Photo

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 01/11/24

In 2013, Vincenzo was embraced by Pope Francis; the viral image became a symbol of the tenderness of God and the dignity of life. Vincenzo has passed away at 58.

Vincenzo Riva described Pope Francis’ hands as “so tender. Soft and beautiful.” And through them, and the embrace they imparted, Riva said he “felt only love.”

Riva passed away January 10 at age 58.

His encounter with the Pope, in 2013, went viral. And it became a symbol both of what the Holy Father would come to often refer to as “God’s style” — compassion, closeness, tenderness — and the dignity of life.

Riva suffered from type 1 neurofibromitosis that began to appear when he was 15 years old. It is a rare and currently untreatable disease that causes painful growths.

Speaking of his meeting with Pope Francis, Riva explained, “he held me tight, drawing me close to him, and he didn’t let go. I tried to speak, to say something, but I could not: the emotion was too strong. It lasted a little over a minute, but it seemed like an eternity.”

The president of Riva’s native Veneto region in Italy, Luca Zaia, sent his condolences, saying that the images of the encounter between Riva and the Pope were a reminder that “inclusion and socialization, in the face of all the barriers that might create isolation in illness, are a universal right for the sick and a duty for all of society.”

“Vinicio was a model in the expression of great values and human relationships in illness, even one that, as in his case, is severely disfiguring. A rare pathology made his life difficult to the limits of the impossible since he was a boy but, also thanks to the help of those who loved him, he was able to demonstrate in a short life great dignity and the value of life in suffering … At this time I send my condolences to his family and friends.”

Read Riva’s own beautiful account of the meeting with Pope Francis below:

CNN spoke with him here.

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