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Pope’s hug of Rhode Island boy lifts spirits

Pope Francis hugged Dominic Gondreau, 8, who has cerebral palsy, after celebrating Easter Mass.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Pope Francis hugged Dominic Gondreau, 8, who has cerebral palsy, after celebrating Easter Mass.

Only Dominic Gondreau knows what Pope Francis whispered in his ear, and when anyone asks him, he just giggles, the boy’s father said.

Francis “bestowed an extra­ordinary Easter blessing” on Dominic’s Rhode Island family when he hugged the 8-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, following the Easter Mass in St. ­Peter’s Square, Paul Gondreau said. The photo of Francis hugging Dominic has captivated the world, appearing in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and on NBC Nightly News, Fox News, and ABC Nightly News, to name a few.

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“I was just awe-struck and moved to tears right on the spot,” Gondreau said in a phone interview.

Paul Gondreau, a theology professor at Providence College, is working for the school in Rome for the semester with his wife and five children, including Dominic. The family has ­attended many of the historic gatherings in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican since Pope ­Benedict XVI resigned.

After weeks of braving huge crowds, the family knew they were unlikely to find seats when they arrived only an hour and 15 minutes before Sunday’s Mass began, Gondreau said. As the Gondreaus waited to enter the square, an usher spotted Dominic and escorted the boy and his mother to seats. Several ushers seemed to have taken a liking to the boy, Gondreau said. So when ­Francis began touring the square in the popemobile, they placed Dominic at the front of a massive throng of people. The first time Francis passed by, as Dominic’s mother held him aloft, the pope was looking in the other direction and did not see Dominic, Gondreau said.

But on the second pass, several ushers stepped into the popemobile’s path and stopped the procession in front of ­Dominic, whose mother handed him into Francis’s embrace.

Dominic “broke out into this huge smile and put his arm around the pope’s neck,” said Gondreau. “Dominic is physically impaired, but cognitively he’s very sharp. He knew who it was and the significance of the moment.”

The moment was broadcast around the world and on screens around the square, where Gondreau’s other son, Lucas, 12, first saw his brother and the pope together. “I’ll always ­remember Lucas saying, ‘Look, it’s Dominic,’ and looking up and seeing him there on the screen,” Gondreau said.

Gondreau has seen Dominic inspire others, and as he watched Francis bless his son he was certain that at least part of Dominic’s purpose in life was purely to be inspiring. “What’s really humbling, very humbling and awe-inspiring, is that God has chosen a moment when Dominic would inspire the world,” Gondreau said.

Lauren Dezenski can be reached at lauren.dezenski@
globe.com. Todd Feathers can be reached at todd.feathers@
globe.com.
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