The Kiwi researcher who planted a hongi on Pope Francis during an overseas trip to raise awareness of Huntington's disease has praised the Pope's compassion for the sick.
Dr Melanie Cheung is a researcher at Auckland University who is focused on groundbreaking treatment of Huntington's disease and when she was recently invited to Rome to represent indigenous communities at the event, she couldn't say no.
Along with 150 people with Huntington's and their caregivers, Dr Cheung listened to the pope during an event aimed at removing the stigma surrounding the incurable disease.
Dr Cheung said the Pope was generous with his time to the Huntington's sufferers.
"He spent the most time with all the time who were really sick. He was just so loving and compassionate," she said.
As the Pope met each person one by one, Dr Cheung said she saw everyone else shaking his hand but admitted she always wanted to go in for a hongi because it's the Maori way to say hello.
"I thought a hongi would be the perfect way to greet him," she said.
Huntington's Disease is defined by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand as an inherited brain disorder that causes cells in specific parts of the brain to die, resulting in impairment of both mental capability and physical control.
The meeting took place on May 18 in the Paul VI Audience Hall, which lies partially in Vatican territory and partially in Italian Rome.