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Pope 'Not Afraid to Have a Gay Friend,' Says Former Student

Yayo Grassi and Pope Francis

Pope Francis didn’t discuss gay issues or relationships when he met former student Yayo Grassi and his partner while visiting the U.S., but he made it clear that he “is not afraid to have a gay friend,” Grassi says in a new interview.

“Me being gay is no different [to the pope] than me having blue eyes,” Grassi (pictured above, second from right) told ABC News over the weekend. “It’s not different than me living in Washington. It is part of my life. And the way he accepted my boyfriend, it is a validation of how happy he is that two people of the same sex can be together and happy and miss each other when we are not close to each other.”

Grassi brought his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, and several friends to a private meeting with Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature — the Vatican's equivalent of an embassy — in Washington, D.C., on September 23. Long before he was pope, then-Archbishop Bergoglio was a teacher in a Catholic high school in Santa Fe, Argentina, and Grassi was one of his students there in the 1960s. Grassi now runs a catering business in Washington.

“I think that we all had one teacher, one mentor that we love very much, and we consider that person extraordinary, remarkable,” Grassi told ABC. “I think that he was, he has a superior mind, he has an intelligence that goes beyond the common intelligence of regular people.” When he found out Francis was coming to the U.S., he wrote to him requesting a meeting, and the pope called him to arrange it.

Francis welcomed his former student warmly, giving him a hug, Grassi told the network. “I joked with him, we told each other a couple of jokes, and then I introduced all my friends to him, and they had things to bless and we talked,” he said. “He asked me how my business is doing, what kind of food I was cooking, really things of a friend, that a friend would ask another friend.”

“We never discussed anything about me or my boyfriend,” Grassi added. “We discussed my life; we talked about a lot of other things. I didn’t feel it was important to him to discuss it with me. He didn’t bring it up. I didn’t bring it up. I think the message that he puts forth is that of understanding, is that of not judging.” The pope has long known that Grassi is gay, the caterer said in an earlier interview, and had met his partner previously. When the Washington meeting ended, he hugged both Grassi and Bagus and kissed each of them on the cheek.

Grassi told CNN last week that he felt it was important to go public about his meeting with Francis because he was upset about reports of the pope having a private meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who has resisted issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Vatican officials followed those reports with statements that the Davis meeting wasn’t private, with her merely being part of a receiving line; Davis’s attorneys differ.

“I want to show the truth of who Pope Francis is,” Grassi said.

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