Angelo Ciappelloni heard those words while he stood in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo on April 8, 2005.
With hundreds of thousands of people in the Eternal City, and millions more around the world, he was watching the Requiem Mass of Pope John Paul II.
“‘Follow me’ – this lapidary saying of Christ can be taken as the key to understanding the message which comes to us from the life of our late beloved Pope John Paul II,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in his homily from St. Peter’s Square.
“I was so touched by the profundity and, at the same time, the simplicity of the words,” Ciappelloni said.
“And from there I started down the right path.”
In fact, Ciappelloni’s return to the Catholic faith had its beginning some days prior, on the day of St. John Paul II’s death, he told CNA.
At the beginning of 2005, Ciappelloni, then 47 years old, thought he was “missing nothing” in his life, from a material point of view, he said.
“I had work, a house, friends, loved ones… but nothing that gave me meaning.”
Like many Italians, Ciappelloni had grown up Catholic, but he had abandoned the sacraments and the faith. He had no disrespect for the Catholic Church, but the faith did not interest him, he explained.
“I was not participating in the life of the Church.”
“Among other things, I was also using light narcotics, and I was living a fun life, going out, dancing at clubs with friends, and living a libertine life from the sexual perspective,” he stated. “But I was not content, I was not happy. I did not feel peaceful, calm.”
And then, he said, Pope John Paul II fell ill. Ciappelloni was surprised to find himself paying attention.
“The illness of Pope John Paul II upset me greatly, because I was 20 years old when he became pope, and so he was, a little bit, the pope of my youth.”
“Living in Rome in the last period of his life and seeing on television that this pope was suffering moved me a lot.”
Then, the news came that the pope had died.
“When I heard the news, when they gave the news that he had died… I burst into tears,” Ciappelloni recounted, adding that his unexpected tears at the death of the pope touched him.
He said, “there was already something that was happening [inside of me].”
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