A disabled Italian man has rarely seen the streets outside his home in the almost 20 years that he's been paralyzed.
On Wednesday, 42-year-old Salvatore D’argento decided that a trip to see the pontiff was worth the risk to his fragile physical health.
D’argento claims there "are no adequate words to describe" meeting Francis during a general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday, despite the grueling two-hour journey from his hometown of Chieti, Italy.
Though unable to speak out loud, the D'argento’s mother interpreted his lip movements.
"He's a person that needs to be met. A unique person," D'argento said about the pope.
Francis emerged from his popemobile and walked out onto St. Peter's Square when he spotted the disabled man, EWTN reports. The pope gently touched D’argento’s head while chatting with him and his mother. Francis leaned down for a quick peck on the pilgrim's forehead, then offered a blessing.
It was only the second time D’argento has been outside his house since he was 24 years old. A 1995 judo accident has left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Emergency doctor Achille Cavallo explained that D’argento was studying information technology at the time of the accident. Even though the man is now “confined to a room,” he keeps his mind active by studying programming.
His mother reportedly places a book on a pane of glass over his bed so that he can read.
The patient first brought up the idea of meeting the pope “in a very informal way, with very little confidence,” Cavallo said. D'argento believed that seeing Francis was yet another experience that was closed to him.
But a local bishop helped arrange the meeting.
It was the “personality of Pope Francis” that sealed D’argento’s resolve to get up at 3:30 a.m. in the morning to come to the Vatican. But a team of 26 volunteers--including two doctors, a psychologist, and a Capuchin priest--made the trip possible.
Even though “it’s an enormous risk to bring him outside … it’s worth it,” said Cavallo.
D’argento certainly agrees.
“He’s not a common pope,” the man said through his mother.
The popular pontiff has in fact revealed that he has a special heart for those who are outcasts from society. Last November, he warmly embraced Vinicio Riva, a man who suffers from the skin disorder neurofibromatosis type 1.
Earlier this summer, he took to Twitter with a prayer for the sick.
Let us pray that the Church be holier and more humble, loving God by serving the poor, the lonely and the sick.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) August 17, 2014