By Ononye VC/CNA
Rome, Italy, Jan 8, 2022

It was one of the viral Vatican moments of 2021: a boy in a black tracksuit, spectacles, and a face mask spontaneously walking up to greet Pope Francis in the middle of a general audience.

But there was more to the impromptu encounter in October than met the eye: the 10-year-old suffered from epilepsy and autism. His health had recently declined so severely that doctors feared he might have a brain tumor.

Paolo Bonavita was in Rome that day for medical tests. His mother, Elsa Morra, told CNA that the papal audience was followed by an inexplicable improvement in her son’s condition.

“It’s a miracle,” she said. “It’s a miracle, for us, for my family.”

‘The Lord was with him that day’

At the start of the live-streamed audience on Oct. 20, Bonavita unexpectedly walked up the steps toward the pope at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

“Paolo did not have the strength to go up. In fact, when Paolo goes down the stairs he needs a support, a hand, or a handrail. But that day he was able to go up alone,” Morra said in an interview with CNA via an instant messaging platform.

“He stumbled a little, two or three times, but he immediately had the instinct to get up again. The Lord was with him that day, close by, He had given him His hand, I’m convinced of it.”

“And Jesus tells us: ‘You too, if you do not behave like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven’. The courage to approach the Lord, to be open to the Lord, not to be afraid of the Lord: I thank this child for the lesson he has given us all.”

When Paolo approached Francis, the pope smiled and clasped the boy’s hand.

Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, the regent of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, who sits to the pope’s right at general audiences, rose and gave his seat to Bonavita. Pilgrims applauded and Paolo joined them, enthusiastically clapping his hands.

The boy sat briefly on his hands, before standing in front of the pope again and bouncing on his toes. Pope Francis’ zucchetto caught his attention and he pointed it out to Sapienza, who was now seated behind the pontiff.

Paolo then led a priest who was about to give a reading over to the pope to show him the white papal skullcap. Eventually, the boy walked back down from the platform proudly wearing his own zucchetto.

Pope Francis thanked Bonavita in off-the-cuff remarks at the start of his general audience address.

“The courage to approach the Lord, to be open to the Lord, not to be afraid of the Lord: I thank this child for the lesson he has given us all,” he said.

“And may the Lord help him in his limitation, in his growth because he has given this testimony that came from his heart. Children do not have an automatic translator from the heart to life: the heart takes the lead.”

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