Fire Commissioner Frank A. Nocerino of the North Massapequa Fire District recently became the first president of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York to have a private audience with the Holy Father Pope John Paul II. The state association represents over 850 fire districts and over 122,000 volunteer firefighters in the state of New York.
Commissioner Frank A. Nocerino of the North Massapequa Fire District and president of the Association of Fire Districts State of New York presents a statue of St. Florian, Patron Saint of the fire service to the Holy Father Pope John Paul II.
Along with his immediate family, wife Geralyn and son Michael, and accompanied by the association's immediate past president and current Chief of Staff Kenneth E. Hoffarth, Nocerino called the experience of attending a private Mass at the Vatican Chapel "a thrill," and said the feeling of meeting with the Holy Father was "hard to put into words."
The longtime resident of North Massapequa described the suspense he and his family felt while waiting to learn if the many letters they wrote to various bishops would award them a private audience with the Pope.
"We had to wait it out," Nocerino explained. "We sat in the general audience first, which was great. There were over 12,000 people there from all over the world. We sat in row seven."
That night, the family received a note from the Vatican saying to be at Basilica of St. Peter's the following night at 7:15 p.m. with their passports. "They took us up to a private Mass in a chapel where about 25 people had gathered to hear the Holy Father say the Mass."
After the Mass was over, Nocerino presented the Holy Father with a statue of St. Florian, Patron Saint of the fire service. The wooden statue was hand carved and inscribed by nuns especially for the occasion.
"I knelt in front of him and kissed his ring. I told him the statue was on behalf of the fire service," Nocerino said. He also thanked the Holy Father for all his prayers and spiritual guidance during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center last Sept. 11.
"I wanted to thank him for all he has done for the fire service, especially during Sept. 11. We received messages from all over the place that he was very concerned and praying for the people of New York."
The Pope thanked Nocerino in Italian and blessed him, and placed a set of rosary beads in his hands.
Nocerino called his meeting with the Pope a once-in-a-lifetime experience. "It feels great to have the opportunity to see the Holy Father. I've met all kinds of people through the fire service. I might even get to have a meeting with President George Bush at some point in time, and that would be great. But nothing is going to top seeing the Holy Father. Spiritually, it was a great feeling, really uplifting."
Nocerino wasn't the only one who was positively affected by the meeting. "My son has been studying in Rome for six months," Nocerino explained. "When he goes back to Siena College and has to write about his experiences in Rome, he's certainly going to have a lot to write about."