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His greatest story ever told: Huron man’s had brief exchange with Pope John Paul II

Posted: Monday, Jun 30th, 2014

Franco Fiorini Romero (center, wearing a tie) admires Pope John Paul II during an audience in 1993 in Vatican City. Fiorini just moments before embraced the pope and heard a special blessing from him. While Franco is a very good photographer and had photos of the event, in a twist just amazing as his story saw this photo on the wall of a photographer and asked him for a copy. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

HURON — Franco Fiorini Romero lives in Huron with his son’s family and if you ask him to tell you a story he will recall the day he was in the presence of a saint.

It was the spring of 1993 in the city of Rome where Franco was in Italy for schooling, earning his master’s degree in telecommunication, and during his free time he often walked around Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square.

Vatican City is the city-state that the Roman Catholic Church and its leader the pope call home.

On one Wednesday, while walking the square, he saw a lot of activity and commotion near a particular section of the square near the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall that holds around 6,000 people.

As he approached the crowd he learned that Pope John Paul II, who has been canonized as a saint, was to hold an audience right there in coming moments.

“When I was approaching slowly, in my mind there was only the desire that I hoped that God would give me the opportunity to see him in person,” said Franco.

Most of those there had special invitations but as if by some miracle, Franco, without an invitation, was able to get near the entrance allowed in.

However, Franco was no stranger to the miraculous.

Years before he had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.

“Before my son was born I had a cerebral aneurysm and I was in a coma for three days straight,” said Franco. 

It is at this point he felt his life was hanging by a thread.

“I remember that when I was in this coma I saw the light and thought about going towards it,” said Franco.  “However, my wife at the time had come into my hospital room and told me she was pregnant and I was going to be a father again.  At that moment I decided that I wanted to fight in order to see my son born.”

And fight Franco did. 

The surgeons told him once he awoke that he had a metal stent placed on his head.

He was in the hospital for six months, and had another six months of recovery and rehabilitation in his home once he was discharged from the clinic. 

Franco is the son of Dona Fideline Romero and Don Alfonso Fiorini Venditti.

His mother was from Peru while his father was a World War II veteran from Italy.

Their meeting was a very once-in-a-lifetime chance event.

After World War II, Don Alfonso Fiorini wanted a fresh start and he decided to travel oversees to South America.

He chose Peru because it was not as popular as other countries and thus was easier to get into.

So Don Alfonso Fiorini went to Peru and built roads. He mostly built roads in the mountainous area of the Andes.

Dona Fideline Romero was working in a restaurant in a city and the two met while Don Alfonso Fiorini was eating one day at the restaurant.

A long-distance relationship began and love blossomed.

That fateful day in the spring of 1993 was also not the only time that Franco had seen Pope John Paul II.

The first time came at a distance when the pope visited Peru in 1985.

Franco remembers seeing him and even in that instance could feel the presence of holiness that Pope John Paul II had.

But that feeling was magnified that day in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall when unbeknownst to him, the pope had started to walk closer and closer to where Franco stood.

As the pope approached Franco struggled to get his hand out like the rest of the crowd with him.

“My faith in God had placed me in that incredible moment, it was as if it was a movie,” said Franco of the experience. He then felt it was not just he there but his family.

“In my mind I felt the presence of my parents, my children Frank and Fiorellita, my entire family and friends. It was like we were all living together there in those moments.”

As the pope got within a couple of feet of Franco it happened the two locked hands.

“I remember that when the pope touched my hand I felt like I had gone into a different world.  It was like I was not inside of my own body, it was a supernatural experience full of emotion and excitement,” said Fiorini. “After shaking my hand the pope went to pull away and I would not let his hand go and then he pulled harder and after I came back to the present I released his hand and I remember that he told me, ‘You should continue on the road that you are on.’”

At that moment Franco said he knew in his heart that “with faith anything is possible.”

He describes the experience as second only to the birth of his two children.

Franco stayed for the entire program that day but the effects were present for many days afterward.

“That night I was not able to sleep because I was so emotional about what had happened to me and the chance that I had received,” said Franco. “I remember that the next day I woke up and started to call all of my family back in Peru to tell them about meeting and getting to shake hands with the pope.”

But the blessed feeling has never really left him.

“Even to this day I remember that day with happiness and full of emotion, just grateful to God for giving me the opportunity that happened that day so many years ago,” said Franco.

What also has stayed with him is those words the pope spoke to him that day, “ You should continue on the road that you are on.”

A road that has taken him from Peru, to Rome and now Huron, South Dakota.


For the complete article see the 06-29-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-29-2014 paper.

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