Pope Francis’ embrace of Dominic Gondreau, a child with cerebral palsy, recently went viral, touching the hearts of individuals across the globe. A photo of the compassionate act quickly piqued the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, alike, who felt intense emotion upon seeing Francis lovingly hug the child.
This week, TheBlaze interviewed the boy’s father, Dr. Paul Gondreau, about the experience — one that has landed both him and his family members some major media coverage since the Easter Sunday mass after which the embrace took place.
Dr. Gondreau, a professor of theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, said that he is teaching for the semester in Rome — and he brought his wife and family along with him to participate in the six-month experience.
Since the family has an apartment not far from St. Peter’s Square, they have taken advantage of a variety of events at the Vatican, including Pope Benedict’s final appearances and Pope Francis’ first Easter mass. But little did they know that in attending the latter event, they would end up in newspapers and media outlets across the globe. Nor could they have guessed that their eight-year-old son, Dominic, would end up in the arms of Pope Francis.
TheBlaze connected with Dr. Gondreau to speak further about the viral photograph and the story behind the experience. Here are his responses:
What motivated you, your wife and your five children to attend mass at St. Peter’s Square (and what were you doing in Italy)?
We decided to come as a family to take advantage of being in Rome. What Catholic family wouldn’t relish the opportunity of being in Rome together for 6 months? And as it turned out, we found an apartment that makes it rather quick and easy to make it to St. Peter’s. So we decided we’d take advantage of as many grand papal moments as possible — and that was before Pope Benedict announced his resignation!
As for Easter Sunday, the moment almost didn’t happen, as we were a little late getting to the Square (two of my kids had joined me for the Easter Vigil the night before, and so it was a late night for us), and the seating area was already full, and the Square was getting rather full. But we plodded ahead anyway, and at the entrance to the seating area, the Swiss Guard indicated that one person could accompany my disabled son to the seating area for the disabled. We decided it was my wife Christiana’s turn to sit up front with Dominic. So I stayed back near the obelisk with our four other children.
What did you feel as Pope Francis hugged Dominic?
At first I was unaware Pope Francis was holding my son (there’s lots of energy and movement when the pope is touring the Square, so one isn’t always looking at the big screens giving live feed of the event). Suddenly, my 12-year old son, Lucas, said, “It’s Dominic!” Thinking he was seeing Dominic with my wife moving through the crowd looking for us, I started to look for her. Then Lucas said, “The Pope is holding Dominic!” That’s when I looked up at the jumbtron and beheld the grand moment. Lucas and I immediately started to cry.
What did I feel? What any father feels when his son is embraced in a fatherly embrace by the Holy Father. Especially my young disabled son. What a blessing! What an affirmation! It was like a gentle kiss from God, saying, paraphrasing what God the Father said at Jesus’ baptism, “Behold, my beloved son, Dominic, whom I love and have blessed much.”
Welcome to the Blog! I am a Salesian of Don Bosco and was ordained to the priesthood on August 26, 2000. I hope this site is a place of interest for you where you will find ideas and information on the Catholic faith and on Salesianity.