Pope Francis Embraces Disfigured Man, Iconic Photo Spreads Across Globe

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Pope Francis' compassionate nature was poignantly captured in an instantly iconic image of him tenderly comforting a sick man by kissing him on the head.

At the end of his General Audience in Vatican City on Wednesday, when 50,000 attendees gathered with him, someone snapped the picture of the pontiff:

Pope Embraces Disfigured Man

Francis embraced the man afflicted with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes pain and the formation of thousands of tumors on the body.

In the photo, the unnamed man buries his head in Francis' robes as the Pope puts his hand on his head, an image that went viral almost immediately.

Francis then leaned in to kiss the ailing man.

"True charity requires courage," the Pope Tweeted in September. "Let us over come the fear of getting our hands dirty so as to help those in need."

He is a man who practices what he preaches.

The focus of Pope Francis, who takes his name from St. Francis of Assisi, has been to reemphasize inclusion and mercy in a church that is “for the poor.”

Francis chose his papal name in honor of the 13th Century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity.

He seeks to become the voice for the disadvantaged, and to preach a message of joy and peace, as he leads the world's largest Christian church.

Neurofibromatosis can lead to hearing and vision loss, heart and blood vessel complications, and severe disability when the tumors begin to compress nerves.

Historically, it was associated the the "Elephant Man," Joseph Merrick, although geneticists now believe Merrick suffered from a different disease.

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