Father Francesco Chiarini, 39, a priest of the Neocatechumenal Way in the Diocese of Fermo, Italy, believes his vocation is related to an unexpected encounter he had as an 8-year-old boy. John Paul II visited Chiarini’s hometown on December 30, 1988. Pope John Paul II, then 67 years old, descended from the sky—literally: He got down from a helicopter, wearing a red cape. A joyful crowd celebrated his apostolic visit. Kiko Argüello, then 48 years old, one of the founders of the Neocatechumenal Way, accompanied the Pontiff to the entrance of the International Center for Evangelization of Porto San Giorgio, located in the central Italian region of Marche.
Among the crowd, an Italian boy holding a small Vatican flag ran with his brother to see the Successor of Peter. They were stopped by a metal barrier. It seemed it would be impossible to see the pope close up, but the future saint took special notice of the elder of the brothers; he stopped in front of the clear-eyed, smiling little boy, who was almost hanging off that barrier.
“We got past the barrier,” Chiarini tells Aleteia. “The pope came to me—I don’t know why he didn’t do the same with my brother, who was next to me—and he caressed my cheek, almost like a friendly and soft pat. I still remember his fragrance.”
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