It sounds on its surface unremarkable, but NCR begs to differ:
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…
Explaining how rare something like this is, the article concludes:
Despite Francis’ new approachability, the decision to hug a pope can raise eyebrows. “They might shoot you,” Frey recalled his wife warning, him when he first shared the idea with her.
“I replied, ‘what a way to go. In Francis’ arms.”
Meanwhile, whether or not a lay person has ever initiated a hug with the pope, this sort of things does happen: