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During the week of World Youth Day Krakow, on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 12:30pm, I was blessed to have lunch with Pope Francis. The meal was hosted in the dining hall of the 14th century Bishop’s Palace with the famous Papal Window on Franciszkanska Street in Krakow, Poland.
Every three years during World Youth Day, two young people from each continent are chosen to share a meal with the Pope. I was selected to represent Oceania.
Though we had been selected through a lottery three weeks before WYD, we had been sworn to secrecy until just before the event. Fourteen representatives were chosen, mostly from among the long-term volunteers. The lunch was delicious Polish cuisine, a three-course meal with the aim of bringing together the young people from WYD and Pope Francis in a family dinner setting to share a meal and have a conversation.
We introduced ourselves and there was a translator present, which made it easier for us to communicate as Pope Francis spoke Spanish. There were lighter moments, when we talked about Pope’s favorite food and music, and we got a selfie together. But we also discussed difficult issues in the faith, a conversation which got emotional and had me in tears.
We discussed the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that we must work hard in our faith during these trying times, and question everything to learn about the faith and grow deeper.
It felt like home and it felt like family.
One of the questions I asked Pope Francis was, “What is your biggest hope for the young people?” He replied saying, “Is for them not to lose the hope and continue having hope.” This event got me thinking and reflecting about what mattered the most.
Here are the three things that hit home for me:
The importance of family - How important it is for us to value our family and time. To look up from our phones and be present. To sit down at the family dinner table and start having open and honest conversations. Pope Francis showed me what it was like to be present and made me feel like I was part of his family.
The importance of leadership - To know the faith, love and serve our communities. To be selfless in this demanding society of instant gratification. To be more patient and listen generously. Witnessing Pope Francis as I sat across from him inspired me to trust the authority and leadership in the Catholic Church. How he has to be patient and has a full, busy schedule. To believe in who I serve, respect who represents Jesus and how much he needs our prayers.
The importance of identity - Understanding and knowing who you are and our purpose, mission and vision. Just being in the presence of Pope Francis was a blessed, uplifting and rewarding experience after struggling to be accepted in society today. How at peace and humble he was to spend time with us. I was touched by how down to earth he is, and I felt comfortable that he allowed me to be me.
To those of you reading this, I would encourage you to focus on loving your family wholeheartedly, find out who you are and who God called you to be. And last, focus on serving selflessly to those around you.
I’ve been working on this with my family as I travel with my siblings and connect online with my parents for the last year and four months. It has been one of the hardest challenges in my life, but the most rewarding and yet still a work in progress.
It is a great reminder that we are not perfect.
The main theme of our faith journey has been “Jezu Ufam Tobie” which means “Jesus I trust in you” in Polish. This prayer and sentence from the Divine Mercy, led us to Krakow, Poland and it has been a miraculous faith journey for our lives as missionaries.
Simple Inspired Action: Go and sit down at the family dinner table and ask your family how they are doing. Love them. Forgive them. Talk about your current issues. Make amends. Ask open and honest questions. Pray with them. Listen to them. Value them. Appreciate them. It is crucial to your faith journey and personal growth.
Here is a quote to ponder - “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” - St Teresa of Calcutta.