Visually impaired radio reporter Alessandro Forlani found himself speechless Monday when he had an opportunity to meet newly elected Pope Francis at the pontiff's first meeting with the press. Luckily, Forlani's guide dog Asia provided a conversation starter.
Forlani initially wasn't sure if he would even be able to meet the pope at this week's meeting, since normal protocol would not allow him to bring his guide dog into the auditorium where it was being held. "As I waited in line to enter the hall, the security guards told me that most likely I wouldn’t be allowed to get in with the dog," he wrote on his Facebook page, as reported by the site Life with Dogs. "But after a few minutes, Vatican officials gave me the green light and I was accompanied by a Swiss guard to the audience hall." Not only that, the reporter and his yellow Labrador ended up being seated in one of the front rows.
After the pope gave a speech to the members of the media, many reporters lined up for a chance to meet him or be blessed. Although Forlani was not on the approved list to meet the pope, he was approached by Vatican officials. "They said that Pope Francis had asked to meet me," the reporter wrote. "He had seen Asia and wanted to see both us. He broke the ceremonial rules as my presence on stage with Asia wasn't previously arranged."
But when the time came, Forlani found himself tongue-tied to be in the pontiff's presence. Pope Francis broke the ice. "The Pope asked me, 'What's your name, what do you do?'" Forlani told Rome Reports. "And then I asked him if he could give a special blessing for my daughter, for my wife and he did. And then he thought about my dog saying, 'and one for the dog,' He reached down and patted my dog."
The action harkens back to Pope Francis's namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, known as the patron saint of animals. The saint also cared for the poor and advocated for peace. At this week's gathering, Pope Francis said it was those qualities that led him to take the saint's name as his own.
Forlani, a host for the public radio division of Radiotelevisione italiana S.p.A., wrote on Facebook that the pope "greeted me warmly. His hand was warm, strong, a little plump." He said the impression he received of Pope Francis was "the same one that communicates from the pulpit: strong intelligence and strong empathy, a great mind and a big heart."
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