Gov. Larry Hogan said he received a special blessing from Pope Francis Thursday on behalf of cancer patients.
"It couldn't come at a better time for me," Hogan, who completed his fifth round of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma Tuesday, said in an interview. "I was getting thousands of prayers, but it doesn't get much better than getting a blessing from the pope."
Hogan and his wife, Yumi, were among a group of about 30 people to meet the pontiff at the Washington Catholic Charities. Hogan said he believed he was the only one there to receive an individual blessing. Hogan said when Cardinal Donald Wuerl brought him over and introduced him to Pope Francis, it was clear the pope already knew who he was.
Despite his doctor's warnings to avoid shaking hands, Hogan said he reached for the pope's.
"I haven't been shaking hands lately, but obviously, I'm going to do it for the pope," Hogan said, laughing. "I'm not supposed to touch people because my immune system is down. And of course the pope has been shaking hands with people all day long. ... Maybe the good lord will look out for me. I'm assuming I'm not going to catch germs from the pope."
Hogan said the pontiff placed a hand on his head, which has been bald during the treatment regime, and gave a quick blessing.
"It was an amazing experience," said Hogan, a Catholic who attended Catholic schools as youngster. "I've met six different presidents in my lifetime, but it's the first time I met a pope."
Pope Francis also gave Hogan and his wife rosaries from the Vatican. In a statement the governor posted to his Facebook page, the governor called the meeting "an incredible honor."
"My faith, like the faith of countless other patients like me, gives me strength to defeat this disease, and continue to be the best public steward I can be for the people of this great state," Hogan's statement said. "I am inspired by the Pope's words this week. He said that, 'service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.' Working to make people's lives better is something I can understand and will continue to put to work in my administration as well as my life."
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Hogan announced in June his diagnosis of stage 3 lymphoma and has remained on the job while undergoing treatment. He has curbed most of his public appearances except for cancer awareness events. His final round of chemotherapy begins next month.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to give a joint address to Congress. Washington, D.C. was the pope's first stop during his first visit to the United States. He'll next visit New York City, then Philadelphia.
Hogan and his wife were among the dignitaries who bid adieu to Pope Francis as his plane left Andrews Air Force Base Thursday afternoon.
Hogan stood at the beginning of the receiving line as the pope made his way to the airplane. Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark said the pontiff told Hogan, "I will pray for you. I will pray for you" as he passed by.
After the pope's plane took off, Clark said, the crowd of dignitaries, which included Secretary of State John Kerry, began chanting the name of the governor's cancer awareness group, ""Hogan Strong."