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MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio - Pope Benedict XVI's retirement came as a surprise to many Catholics, including one northeast Ohio man with a special connection to the Vatican.
Ignatius Lovano of Maple Heights was a police officer in Italy in 1954, and was chosen to guard the future Pope John XXIII at a religious festival. Lovano remembers spending the entire day with him.
"He said to me, 'Are your legs made of steel?' because he saw me standing without movement," Lovano recalled. "I said 'Holy Father, I am only 24.'"
After he was elected Pope, Lovano sent a picture of that day to the Vatican. Pope John autographed the photo and sent it back to Lovano along with his papal photo and a note.
"He sent the blessing to me and my family," he said. "He was very happy to sign the picture for me."
Five decades later and Lovano still beams with pride when he speaks of the picture with Pope John. He displays the photo at the Northfield Plaza Barber Shop where, at age 83, he still cuts hair one day a week.
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