Pope Francis embraces a member of his congregation suffering from neurofibromatosis at the Vatican
(Photo: EPA)

The extraordinary photograph of Pope Francis embracing the man with neurofibromatosis, the disease associated with “The Elephant Man”  Joseph Carey Merrick, has gone viral and deservedly so.

Francis picked out the man at his daily greeting in Rome when the badly disfigured person approached him.

The photograph speaks volumes about this pope: a man capable with a simple gesture of extraordinary empathy and compassion for one of God’s creatures dealt a horrific blow by life.

It was an amazing moment to see the prince of the church reach out to a poor man suffering with horrific tumors all over his body.

In one moment it encapsulated the message of this pope as a pastor, caring for all his children, not just those who dwell on high.

The man was identified as suffering from neurofibromatosis, which causes extreme pain and can result in blindness, learning impairment, and even cancer, according to the  Mayo Clinic. Treatment of the condition is very complicated.

One can only imagine the hideous existence the poor man has suffered until this point and the pope’s embrace must have seemed like it came from heaven itself to the poor sufferer.

Pope Francis is quickly proving to be a man of extraordinary compassion and charity. Washing the feet of prisoners, meeting and feeding homeless people, refusing to live in the pope’s palatial residence, he has done more for Catholicism in a few short weeks than the entire tenure of Pope Benedict.

The only fear is that he has arrived at his august position late in life and at 76 may not have the time or the long-term energy to reform a church that is screaming out for a new vision.

He is clearly reminiscent of Pope John 23rd, the greatest pontiff of all in my belief, who transformed and modernized a church while emphasizing the role of pastor above all else.

Francis has been one of the great surprises in the recent history of the papacy. It seemed long odds that such a man would be chosen by the slew of traditionalist cardinals who veer more and more towards doctrinal and not pastoral issues.

By embracing the forgotten and the poor and the lame Francis has sent a powerful message of renewal.