Some conservative Catholics think Francis has abandoned church doctrine and saw his jerking his hand away from people who hoped to kiss his ring as evidence of him shunning age-old traditions. But many Catholics noted that the short clip making the rounds online didn't give a full picture.
During a visit Monday to Loreto, a major Italian pilgrimage site, Francis received a long line of faithful, some of whom shook his hand, while others kissed his hand or bowed down in a gesture of reverence. He only began pulling his hand away after having greeted a large number of people.
Those coming to his defense noted that he still had to greet sick people and lead a prayer during his visit. The video clip also became material for comedians. Trevor Noah, host of American TV program "The Daily Show", on Tuesday imitated Francis pulling his hand back and quipped, "I am impressed at how quick he is, like every single time."
However, Francis allowed nuns and priests to kiss his hand during his general audience Wednesday. One of them was Sister Maria Concetta Esu, an 85-year-old nun and obstetrician who has delivered around 3,000 babies during more than 60 years of missionary work in the Central African Republic.
With Esu at his side gently helping the pontiff as his papers blew in the wind, Pope Francis recalled meeting her in Bangui in 2015 after she arrived in a canoe. "This is a sign of our affection, and thanks for all the work you have done among our African sisters and brothers in the service of life, of children, of women and of families," Francis said, presenting the nun with a medal. She then bowed and kissed his hand.
Among those commenting on Francis' actions was Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, who tweeted: "She kissed his ring!" Each pope picks his own ring, which is destroyed at the end of his papacy, a formality meant to symbolize the end of his reign and to prevent forgeries. The papal Fisherman's Ring was named for the apostle Peter, who was a fisherman and the first pope.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the host of "The Daily Show" is Trevor Noah.