Each year at Kennedy Catholic brings renewed responsibilities and opportunities. The first month of my senior year has been something I will truly never forget. Two weeks before school resumed, Father Vaillancourt called to inform me that I was chosen to be the representative of Kennedy Catholic to meet Pope Francis during his visit to New York City. I remember hearing this and being at a loss for words, and frankly, I think I still am. I began to think about what a monumental opportunity this would be for me personally, and the responsibility I had in bringing Pope Francis’s message back to my school as well as living it in my own life.
I started researching Pope Francis’s life before he was ordained, what made him join the priesthood, how he rose up through the Church hierarchy ultimately becoming our Pontiff, and most importantly, how his message has remained the same and how he has influenced others. I came to the realization that Pope Francis’s mission is truly aligned with God’s will, and that it is one of simplicity and kindheartedness. As our moral example of Christian leadership, he puts the concerns of all peoples in his hands and actively carries out the Word of God by contributing to the happiness of every human being. His actions are to benefit not only Catholics, but the whole human race, and his actions transcend every language. The word pontifex is derived from Latin to mean bridge-builder. Pope Francis is one who actively serves others so as to maintain not an exclusive community of believers, but an inclusive community of human beings. He is a Pope of the people. He wants to walk among us and be a part of our lives. At Kennedy Catholic, we are provided with an environment through which we can exemplify Pope Francis’s mission for us to wholly nourish the human person both physically and spiritually. Our responsibility of stewardship and his example of humility and selflessness is what fuels our courage and compassion to make an impact on the lives of others. Like Pope Francis, we are led to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Actually meeting Pope Francis is even too emotional to put into words. The anticipation and excitement while waiting in the hall with the other seniors at Our Lady Queen of Angels was overwhelming. Even though we could hear the roar of the motorcycles and cheers from the crowd, the hallway where I was standing seemed silent. As the Pontiff began walking up the steps to greet us, everything seemed like it was happening in slow motion, and I was trying to focus on what I was going to ask him and to capture this once in a lifetime moment. Before I was aware, he was holding my hand. In the moment during this wave of emotions, it was difficult to comprehend that His Holiness is standing in front of me. As he approached me, his smile put me at ease, and I felt completely relaxed. I introduced myself and showed him a photo of my aunt who passed away last year from brain cancer. He listened to me as I described what happened to her, placed his hand on the picture, and blessed it. The death of my aunt was very difficult for my family but explaining this to Pope Francis helped to ease the loss. He smiled and shook my hand again, and continued down the line to greet the rest of the seniors. I could not believe I had a conversation with the Pope. There was an incredible feeling of hopefulness, that anything is possible.
As Pope Francis left the hallway, none of us could even speak. I think we were all trying to absorb what had just taken place. This experience was truly inspiring, and I hope it sparks something in all of you as it has in me. In reading about Pope Francis, I came across some of his words, “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful …Then we can talk about everything else.” As Catholics, we must never lose sight of our mission- to carry out the Word of God in our actions. But as human beings, we must never lose sight of our responsibility to others- to show courage and compassion, to treat others as we would want to be treated, to care about the well-being of the people around us, no matter the differences, and to take care of the world in which we live. I thank Fr. Vaillancourt for giving me this unbelievable honor which I will take with me the rest of my life.
After the event, Nick had the opportunity to meet Anderson Cooper and was interviewed for his television program.