FOOTAGE OF Pope Francis appearing to withdraw his hand from Catholics trying to kiss his papal ring has been the talk of the internet this week.
Filmed during a meeting in the Italian town of Loreto, it shows the Pope repeatedly attempting to shun the affections of his followers for reasons unknown.
The clip has been greeted by a mixture of confusion, anger and amusement.
However, it has become apparent that the footage may not be presenting the complete picture of Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy House of Loreto during the Feast of the Annunciation.
Why did Pope Francis refuse to let Catholics kiss his papal ring?
For one thing, the footage widely circulated online is just a short section of a much longer sequence of the Pope greeting people.
The BBC studied official Vatican TV footage of the incident and discovered the Pontiff received 113 people that day over the course of around 13 minutes.
In the first 10 minutes along, they noted at while 13 people shook Pope Francis’ hand without bowing, a further 41 bowed towards his hands and either made the symbolic gesture of kissing the Papal ring or actually kissed the ring itself.
A further nine not only bowed and kissed the ring but even embraced the Pope himself. At no point during these first 10 minutes did the Pope protest.
It was only after 10 minutes, during a frantic 53-second period, that Pope Francis began to snap his hand away, shunning 19 people from trying to kiss his ring.
The BBC noted that the approach could have been down to the fact the Pope was keen to get to the end of the receiving line, noting that he later spent more time greeting people, many in wheelchairs, in front of the Loreto church.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti has since said that Francis was was also worried about hygiene after greeting dozens of people in a lengthy receiving line.
“The Holy Father told me that the motivation was very simple: hygiene,” Gisotti told reporters. “He wants to avoid the risk of contagion for the people, not for him.”
“You all know that he has a great joy in meeting and embracing people, and being embraced by them.”
What is the significance of the Pope's papal ring?
An action steeped in political and religious significance, the kissing of the papal ring is a practice dating back centuries.
However, it is one Pope Francis has often avoided. It has been theorised that this approach is down to a desire to stay humble among the Catholic masses and help the church become a more modernised entity.
Pope Francis is also known for his humility and isn’t averse to showing this, as he did during a joint visit to Jerusalem in May 2014, where he made great efforts to kiss the hand of the leader of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
But while the Pope may have some aversion to having the Papal ring kissed, he evidently isn’t entirely opposed to the concept, as the footage, watched in its entirety, demonstrates.