"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]."
A salesman at a clothing store, Ciappelloni returned to his life and work. One evening that first week of April, he was riding his bicycle home from work, when he passed the Church of Santa Maria in Via Lata in the center of Rome.
Inside a group of religious sisters were holding Eucharistic adoration. "That evening, as I was passing the church, I felt the need to stop," Ciappelloni recalled. "I locked up my bicycle, entered the church – it had been years since I had entered a church – I got on my knees because there was the Blessed Sacrament, and I burst into tears."
"From one day to the next I changed my life."
He said he returned to the sacrament of reconciliation, started going to Mass, and began praying, something he said he had not done for nearly four decades.
"It was something I could not resist, because even if I didn't understand exactly what had happened, I understood that it was a good thing," Ciappelloni said.
After visiting the body of John Paul II laid out in state in St. Peter's Basilica, Ciappelloni saw a rare shooting star in the night sky. He said it felt like another sign to him.
(Story continues below)
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"I can say with certainty that St. John Paul II practically took me, brought me, grabbed me by the hand and placed me in the arms of Christ and in the arms of the Church," he reflected.
Then, at the funeral Mass, he heard Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, speak for the first time.
Soon after, he signed up for a three-year weekly theology course for lay people.
"Let's say that if John Paul II brought me inside the Church, Pope Benedict XVI made me fall in love with the Word of God," Ciappelloni explained. "He helped me a lot, because his teachings were clear, logical, with a coherence of life…simply living as a Christian, a Catholic."
"And then with attendance at Church for some time, with Pope Francis I understood the mercy of God."
He remembers his old life, he said, but he knows he belongs in the Church. Thinking of his old life, he told CNA: "I haven't thought once about going back."