.- Thomson Philip, a young India-born man who lives in New Zealand, can hardly believe he sat next to Pope Francis for lunch during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.
The 27 year-old communications engineer told CNA, “I don’t have enough words to describe what I feel. I felt so blessed and it was the best experience of my life. I have a lot of responsibility now with this.”
During the Friday lunch, Pope Francis sat at one of the tables, while Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio sat at the other. On both sides sat seven young people. Philip sat in the first spot on the Pope’s left.
“It was a great opportunity in which the Pope asked us to spread the hope of Christ to others. He also asked us to pray for him,” he said. “We didn’t care about the food, just about him.”
A papal lunch with young people from the worlds’ continents has become a World Youth Day tradition.
Philip said he reacted with disbelief to the news he would be one of the select few to have a personal lunch with the Pope.
“I got an email message and I checked to see if it was real, if it came from the right place, from the right source. I was so surprised and I almost fainted. It was a great lunch.”
He said the young people waited for about an hour before lunch. When Pope Francis arrived, he gave them “a warm welcome.”
“When I told him that I spoke English he asked me to talk slow that he could understand. Fortunately he understood me even though we had a girl there to translate.”
“The Pope asked us to pray and to work in community. He didn’t ask us to do big things, just to do what we are supposed to do well,” he explained.
Philip showed the gifts that each of the Pope’s young lunch companions received: a blessed rosary and a pontifical medal with the bust of the Holy Father.
Another youth who attended the lunch, Luis Edmundo Martinez of Mexico, told CNA that eating with the Pope “was a wonderful experience, sharing so much time with him, being with him, and having the freedom to ask him whatever we wanted.”
Martinez was able to speak naturally with the Holy Father in their shared native language of Spanish.
“I have been working with the World Youth Day organizational committee since January. I think that this was in some way a gift from God for serving,” he added.
“I left everything to come here.”