- Pope Francis could be seen pulling his hand away from pilgrims at Loreto in Italy
- They wanted to pay traditional respects by kissing the Pope’s sacred ring
- But Francis smiled as he slipped his hand away as each tried to do so
- Some criticised his insistence as egotistical while others thought it was humble
Footage has emerged of Pope Francis repeatedly pulling his hand away as the faithful attempt to perform a traditional sign of respect.
The Pope was greeting worshippers at the Italian pilgrimage site dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Loreto on Monday.
But he appeared reluctant to allow the laity to pay him the respect of kissing his ring – simple silver with a cross – the sacred symbol of the Pope’s union to the Church.
A Vatican aide said he had been ‘amused’ by all the reaction, adding of the ring kissing: ‘Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he does not. It’s really as simple as that.’
Pope Francis quickly slips his hand away from this woman as she bends to kiss his hand at the cathedral in Loreto, Italy
Another man gets close to paying his respects by kissing the ring before the Pope pulls his hand away
He has divided opinion in the Church, with some believing the Pope should allow them the privilege, while others say it is a dated practice harking back to when Pope’s were crowned like monarchs.
Video shows him beaming politely as devotees kneel before him but as each of them attempts to kiss the ring he quickly slips his hand away.
The pontiff can be seen smiling afterwards to offer reassurance as some appear deflated at his recoiling from the kiss.
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, a supporter of Francis, tweeted: ‘He’s making sure that they engage with him, not treat him like a sacred relic. He’s the Vicar of Christ, not a Roman emperor.’
‘It’s high time kissing bishops’ rings disappears altogether. It’s just ridiculous and has nothing to do with tradition. It’s an import from monarchies. Much of the pomp around bishops should be ditched,’ Tweeted Jesuit priest Russell Pollitt.
Some Vatican watchers noted that even former Pope Benedict, a hero to nostalgic conservatives, and his predecessor John Paul, did not like having their hands kissed – at least not by long lines of people, for the sake of expediency.
One Twitter user recalled that when he visited Pope John Paul with a group of 50 people they were told specifically not to kneel or kiss the papal hand.
Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register Edward Pentin tweeted: ‘This is something he has done quite regularly during his pontificate though not quite so insistently as today.’
Pope Francis was in Loreto to sign a document on Monday during his pastoral visit at Santuario della Santa Casa
Pope Francis’ address was broadcast on screens in the packed square outside the Church in Loreto
David Gibson, director of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture, wrote: ‘This tradition is simply a throwback to an imperial/monarchical era that the papacy mimicked. If it served a purpose at one time it may not (and I think does not) serve any longer. Pope’s are no longer crowned.’
But Catholic priest Kevin Cusick tweeted: ‘It’s a grace for the faithful to be able to show respect for the office of the pope by kissing the papal ring. It’s not about the pope, it’s about the faithful.’
Francis celebrated Mass in Loreto’s cathedral and then signed a document dedicated to today’s youth.
The papers which will be officially released on April 2 are titled ‘Christ Lives.’
The document provide Francis’ commentary on a youth summit held last October with the world’s bishops on ways to better minister to today’s young people.
Francis welcomed more than 250 priests, bishops and cardinals, as well as 34 young Catholics, to a month-long meeting on ministering to future generations, urging young and old to listen to one another without prejudice.
Pope Francis reacts during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation on Monday
The Pope greets the faithful inside the cathedral at Loreto in Italy as he signed a document dedicated to today’s youth
He prayed for God’s help to ensure the church ‘does not allow itself, from one generation to the next, to be extinguished or crushed by the prophets of doom and misfortune, by our own shortcomings, mistakes and sins.’
The meeting was dominated by discussion about how to better welcome gay people into the church, give women a greater say in decision-making, and manage the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal.
The pope said yesterday that he chose Loreto, which according to tradition is the site of Mary’s home, to sign his document because it is the ‘house of the youth.’
‘The House of Mary is also the home of the family,’ Francis said. ‘In the delicate situation of today’s world, the family, founded on marriage between a man and a woman, takes on an essential importance and mission.
‘It is necessary to rediscover the plan traced out by God for the family, to reaffirm its greatness and irreplaceability at the service of life and society.’