VATICAN CITY (DPA) - Pope Francis shunned people attempting to kiss his ring for fear of spreading germs, the Vatican said on Thursday (March 28) about an incident that drew criticism earlier this week.
Footage of Pope Francis pulling his hand away from several faithful trying to kiss his ring during a Monday visit to the Virgin Mary shrine of Loreto, near Italy's Adriatic coast, went viral, with some critics saying he was abandoning church tradition.
"The Pope told me the reason was very simple: hygiene," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters. "When there are long queues of faithful... he wants to avoid the risk of contagion among people" kissing his hand in the same place, he added.
In Loreto, more than 100 people lined up to pay their respects to Pope Francis. The pope started to withdraw his hand from well-wishers towards the end of the ceremony.
Mr Gisotti said Pope Francis has no problem with ring-kissing when meeting small crowds or individuals, like the missionary nun who greeted him on Wednesday, during an audience in St Peter's Square.
Pope Francis is no fan of pomp and protocol and his relatively liberal pastoral approach, with a focus on mercy rather than doctrine, has made him a target of bitter attacks from conservative Catholics.