VATICAN CITY (RNS) It took a split second for him to realize what happened.
As Pope Francis leaned forward to give Estella Westrick a kiss on the cheek as he greeted the faithful on St. Peter's Square, the 3-year-old from Georgia caused a sensation by reaching up and yanking his white skullcap, or zucchetto, off his head.
The pope broke out into good-humored guffaws when he realized what had happened. And video of the encounter went viral on social media.
Estella was visiting Rome with her parents and was taken to meet the pontiff by her godfather, Mountain Butorac, a Catholic tour organizer who moved to Rome with his family from Atlanta three years ago. He writes the Catholic Traveler blog.
“Right before she went up she was a little nervous," Butorac told CNN. "Then she stole his hat. It was hilarious. Everyone was laughing, including the pope."
Butorac posted the footage on Twitter and Facebook with the comment: “Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope! She stole his hat!”
Footage of the lighthearted exchange with the pope attracted more than 13,000 likes on Twitter and 6,200 retweets by late afternoon.
On his blog, Butorac, who runs faith-based tours of the Vatican and other pilgrimage sites in Italy, says his life in Rome revolves around the Vatican and that he has met the pope several times.