Pope Francis has given a 17-year-old boy with Down Syndrome the ride of his life — sort of.
Francis invited Alberto di Tullio up onto his open-top popemobile, a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV, at the end of his general audience Wednesday, letting him spin around on the pontiff’s white chair while tens of thousands of people looked on.
The boy’s father, Celestino di Tullio, told The Associated Press he choked up when Francis approached his son.
“The pope saw him, embraced him. Then Alberto pointed to the car, and so he brought him up,” he said. “He’s a great pope.”
Perhaps Francis’ eye was caught by the blue-and-white-striped Argentine national soccer jersey Alberto was wearing — a gift that the di Tullio’s parish priest gave him Wednesday morning before they set out from Boiano, near Naples, for the audience.
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives on popemobile to celebrate the mass for 'Evangelium Vitae' Day at at St. Peter's Square on June 16, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images)