Vinicio Riva Feels 'Stronger and Happier' Since Pope Francis Embraced Him

11/26/2013 AT 04:40 PM EST



Pope Francis's embrace of a disfigured man made an impact far beyond the Catholic Church, and now, Vinicio Riva, the recipient of that kind act, is opening up about the personal effect it had on him, reports CNN.

"When he embraced me, I quivered. I felt a great warmth," says 53-year-old Riva, who since the age of 15 has suffered from neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that causes painful growths and tumors throughout the body. His mother and sister were similarly affected.

Earlier this month, Riva and his aunt, Caterina Lotto, traveled from Vicenza, in Northern Italy, to Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City to see Pope Francis speak. Francis approached Riva and kissed and hugged him, placing his hand on Riva's head.



A photo of the moment quickly went viral and became an iconic image of compassion and humanity.

"I feel stronger and happier," Riva says. "I feel I can move ahead because the Lord is protecting me."

Riva says he would like to meet Francis again. "I hope he calls me so we can have a face to face meeting. I have many things to tell him," he says.

Asked what he would like to share with the Pope, Riva says, "That's a bit private. It's between him and me."

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