Vincenzo Pinto / AFP / Getty Images
Pope Francis clarified a church-related mystery on Thursday and explained that it was a fear of spreading bacteria that provoked him that he took his hand away from the delights of devoted worshipers as they bent down to kiss the papal ring earlier this week.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters on Thursday that the Pope was not going to succumb to centuries of tradition but was interested in preventing disease.
"The holy father told me that motivation was very simple: hygiene" Gisotti said after talking directly to Pope Francis about the matter. "He wants to avoid the risk of infection to the people, not to him."
Films of the surprising event went viral this week and ignited the heated debate about what it meant.
The first ten minutes of the full video show priests and religious officials who kiss the pope's ring after a service Monday in Loreto, Italy. But Gisotti said that Francis was worried about the practice of hygiene, as long lines of church teachers opened up to greet him.
In general, he added that the pope "likes to embrace people and be embraced by humans" and that he was happy to let people kiss his pope ring in small groups as he was seen on Wednesday.
The papal ring is one of the most powerful symbols in the authority of the pontoon. It is carried on the right hand and kisses it as a sign of obedience and respect. It is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.