Blog Post

Couple Speechless as Pope Hugs Disabled Son

A Rhode Island couple was rendered speechless when, in a crowd of nearly half a million who were gathered in St. Peter's Square on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis singled out their disabled son to hug, kiss and tell the world, "change hatred into love."

It was a photo seen around the world, the moment that Pope Francis picked up eight year-old Dominic Gondreau in St. Peter's Square. Suffering from cerebral palsy, Dominic was in the Square along with his parents and four siblings who had just attended Mass in the Vatican. Afterward, an usher showed Dominic and his mother to an area designated for the handicapped.

As the popemobile approached, the same usher signaled to Mrs. Gondreau to pick up Dominic and follow him. The next thing she knew, the usher was signaling the driver to stop and she was lifting her son up into the arms of Pope Francis.

Paul Gondreau, a theology professor at Providence College who is serving in Rome this semester, didn't even know what was happening until he saw a picture of his son in the arms of the Pope on the giant video screens in the Square.

"Wow! I was speechless," Dr. Gondreau said about the moment, "and I was moved to tears . . ."

Little did he know, but the picture and video were instantly transmitted around the world, even appearing on Fox News, NBC, ABC and CNN.

Gondreau, whose area of expertise is in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, marriage and family, and Christology, later wrote a blog about the event in which he wondered why the moment it meant so much to him, his family, and the world.

"Why is the whole world so moved by images of this embrace? A woman in the Square, moved to tears by the embrace, perhaps answered it best when she said to my wife afterward, 'You know, your son is here to show people how to love.' To show people how to love. This remark hit my wife as a gentle heaven-sent confirmation of what she has long suspected: that Dominic’s special vocation in the world is to move people to love, to show people how to love."

But how can a disabled child show people how to love?

"Christ’s resurrection from the Cross proclaims that the love he offers us, the love that we, in our turn, are to show others, is the REAL reason he endured the Cross in the first place," Dr. Gondreau writes. "Our stony hearts are transformed into this Christ-like love, and thereby empowered to change hatred into love, only through the Cross. And no one shares in the Cross more intimately than the disabled. And so the disabled become our models and our inspiration."

Dr. Gondreau also sees the Pope's Easter embrace of his son "as a compelling witness to the kind of 'poverty' that he urges us to adopt, the poverty that he pointed to in the opening line of his Urbi et Orbi message yesterday: “I would like [the message of Christ's resurrection] to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest…”

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