It all started three months prior to my travelling to Sydney. I had already committed to going to WYD as one of the pilgrims from Orange County and was busy fundraising. Boy, did we fundraise – car washes, food sales, concerts and so much more. All the effort was worth it because I was going to WYD. But then I got the phone call. A call that would change my world.
“Armando will you have lunch with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI?” Sister Eileen McCann, CSJ, who at the time worked as the Coordinator for Youth and Young Adults at the USCCB, had been asked to choose a young adult man from the United States between ages 21-30 to meet with the Holy Father. After some prayer, she looked for someone who had dedicated their life to ministry and fit that age range. We had met providentially at a USCCB meeting and she thought of me. Upon receiving the call, I was speechless, excited, giddy and everything in between. After weeks and months, the day had finally arrived. I was going to see and be in the presence of the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of the Apostles.
The day began by seeing the room in which we would have lunch with the Holy Father and meeting the other young adults from across the globe that would sit alongside me. Some were nervous, some were excited. I was just getting comfortable talking to new friends from Australia, Spain, Timor-Leste and Nigeria when we heard: “He’s here!” We all stood up at the ready. It was time! He walked in and it began.
A three-hour experience flew by – meeting him, offering him gifts, having lunch, having dessert. We were expecting to just listen and hear from him, let him do all the talking, and yet were surprised to see that he wanted to hear from us. In fact, he had many questions for us regarding the young church – How involved in the faith are the young people in your country? How did you come to fall in love with Christ? How has the Church helped you as a young person? While the majority of the conversation was in English, Pope Benedict XVI even changed languages to make us comfortable, talking in Portuguese to the Brazilian young lady and in German to the young man from South Korea who spoke German.
It wasn’t intimidating; it wasn’t difficult – it was a moment of grace where we spent the afternoon with the Vicar of Christ. Like Jesus in the Gospel spending time with children, Pope Benedict XVI spent time with us. And while many things from that day are still so vivid, as if I was there today, the lessons from Pope Benedict XVI’s actions more than his words are what resonate with me to this day. Being present, asking questions and most importantly listening - these are the lessons that I take with me, hold dear and hope that I and many other young adults can emulate in our lives and vocations that the Lord may call us to. As you prepare for WYD either stateside or abroad, I invite you to live these practices. Be present to those around you, ask questions, and, most importantly, listen.
For more resources on WYD, please visit www.wyd2016.us.