Seven-year-old girl fulfills dream to hug Pope Benedict

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Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square, April 18, 2012.

A 7-year-old Italian girl got her wish granted after this week’s Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, when she was able to give a hug to “her friend” Pope Benedict XVI.

Miriam Gentile, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was born in the city of Catanzaro on April 22, 2005, three days after Benedict XVI’s election to the papacy. She has been receiving treatment for her condition at the Gemelli and Bambino Gesu Hospitals in Rome.

At the conclusion of the General Audience on April 25, she personally greeted the Pope and gave him what the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano described as “an unforgettable hug that was simple, spontaneous, and an expression of joy and affection.”

Her father, Marino Gentile, said Miriam “watches the Pope on television all the time, because seeing him makes her happy.”

Among those attending the General Audience this week a group of children aged 5-12 from the Italian city of Parma participating in a program to promote sports as “a healthy way to have fun,” said the group’s spokesman, Giuseppe Formisano.

Olympic gold-medal skier Maria Hofl-Riesch of Germany also attended the audience to offer the pontiff best wishes for his 85th birthday on April 16, and the seventh anniversary of his pontificate on April 19.

The German skier is one of many celebrities who shared their testimonies about the Pope in a new book entitled, “Benedict XVI: Celebrities Talk About the Pope,” published to mark his birthday.

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