Del Rio, daily chronicler of John Paul II's pontificate, changed from being one of the Pope's major critics to being a spiritual disciple.
Born in Rome, del Rio became a Capuchin religious and priest, and traveled the world as a missionary.
He lived his enthusiasm for the Church with an acute critical spirit which, after the Second Vatican Council, led him to request a return to the lay state. Receiving a papal dispensation, he later married.
As a correspondent for the newspaper La Repubblica, he had harshly criticized John Paul II's trips abroad, thinking their motivation was "triumphalism" rather than evangelization.
Given his severe criticism, in 1985 the Vatican Press Office did not permit him to travel with the Holy Father to Latin America. That "punishment," as it was interpreted by his colleagues, changed del Rio's life.
John Paul II met the journalist personally after the incident, and in that encounter del Rio began to discover the Pope's personality.
From then on, del Rio dedicated himself to researching the Pope's life, writing five books, the last of which, "Karol the Great," will be published soon in Italy.
Luigi Accattoli, correspondent for Corriere della Sera, and a great friend of del Rio, went to visit him a week ago at Rome's Gemelli Hospital. As del Rio had not told his friends he was hospitalized, Accattoli asked him if he wished to say anything to them.
"To the Pope!" he said immediately. "I would like you to tell the Pope that I thank him. See how you can say it to him. Tell him that I thank him, with humility, for the help he gave me to believe."
"I had many doubts and many difficulties to believe," del Rio said. "I was helped by the strength of his faith. Seeing that he believed with so much strength, then I also found strength. I received this help when watching him pray. When he 'places himself in God,' it is evident that this saves everything for him."