- (Photo: Reuters)
As photos of Pope Francis embracing and comforting a disfigured man suffering from a rare disease are being reposted and talked about by people around the world, a Jesuit priest has found parallels between the present news story with St. Francis of Assisi and his meeting with a leper.
The photos, which can be viewed on the Vatican Insider, feature Pope Francis meeting, embracing and kissing a man suffering from neurofibromatosis, a disfiguring skin condition, on Wednesday in St. Peter's Square.
The images have made news around the world, been shared throughout social media, and one Jesuit priest has likened them to a story about St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century Italian friar whose name Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio borrowed when he was elected as pope earlier this year.
"As a young man, riding his horse one day outside of Assisi, Francis came upon a leper, a person suffering from one of the many skin diseases common in the early 13th century," the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and published author, wrote in a special to CNN.
"From childhood Francis had had a horror of lepers. Yet because of an earlier dream in which God had asked Francis to change his life, the formerly dissolute youth saw that something new was being asked of him. He dismounted his horse, pressed a coin into the leper's hand and kissed him."
Martin noted that when Francis jumped back on his horse, the man had disappeared – with some speculating that the leper might have been Jesus Christ.
"It was a turning point in the life of Francis of Assisi; from then on he would devote himself to the poor and marginalized. He had embraced, to use Mother Teresa's famous expression, 'Christ in distressing disguise,'" the Jesuit priest added.
Pope Francis' embrace of the disfigured man has been praised by believers and non-believers alike.
"Although I am an atheist I must say Pope Francis is doing some very great things," wrote Twitter user Brady Scanlan, linking to an article about the embrace.
Last week, Pope Francis officially surpassed 10 million Twitter followers, showing that the Vatican's initiative in recent years to connect more with social media users has been successful. The "Pontifex" account comes in nine different languages, translating daily his words of encouragement and inspiration.
"Dear Followers I understand there are now over 10 million of you! I thank you with all my heart and ask you to continue praying for me," Pope Francis recently tweeted.