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A hug for Pope Francis from a Catholic layman

Gesture would have been unthinkable in previous pontificates

<p>Picture: National Catholic Reporter</p>

Picture: National Catholic Reporter

  • Thomas C. Fox for National Catholic Reporter
  • Vatican City
  • May 5, 2014
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In what might be an unprecedented act - and extraordinary sign of affection, a Catholic from Minneapolis, MN embraced Pope Francis May 1 during a private audience.
The lay initiated gesture, considered unthinkable in earlier pontificates, represents another verification of the way Francis has touched peoples’ hearts as well as a papal informality he has generated and encouraged as pope.

Gene Frey, Chairman of Wabash Management Inc. in Minneapolis, MN and a Trustee at University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities, was part of a Papal Foundation delegation visiting Rome. He hugged Francis in a reception line.

The foundation is made up of men and women who raise and give money for a variety of charitable, educational and apostolic projects around the world. (One of Gene’s sons, Jim, serves on the board of the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company.)

During the audience, Francis expressed his gratitude to the group. He singled out in particular its assistance in helping to train “a new generation of leaders whose minds and hearts are shaped by the truth of the Gospel, the wisdom of Catholic social teaching and a profound sense of communion with the universal Church in her service to the entire human family.” (See full text of Francis’ remarks.)

“Amazing is an understatement,” said Frey by telephone from Rome hours after he embraced the pope. For weeks he had spoken to friends about his deep affection for Francis and the human urge to hug him. He wanted to be respectful, but also wanted to share with Francis a human embrace. Given the opportunity, he had said he just might go ahead and act on the spirit within.

The opportunity came following the formal part of the audience when Frey came to the head of a reception line accompanied by his wife, Mary. First, the men shook hands.

“Then I looked into his eyes and asked, ‘Holy Father, can I embrace you?’ I thought the word ‘embrace’ would best translate into Spanish that he could most easily understand. He then he put his arms out - and we hugged. As he embraced Francis his wife, Mary, place her right hand on Francis' left arm.

I had this feeling of calm and peace unlike I ever could have imagined. Then I stood back and said, ‘Our whole family loves you.’”

Full Story: Minnesota layman embraces Pope Francis 

Source: National Catholic Reporter

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