.- The twelve youths chosen to lunch with Pope Francis during World Youth Day said they were still in disbelief, adding that the encounter gave them a greater responsibility to serve the needy.
“I still can’t believe what happened,” said Marcelo Galiano, originally from Argentina’s Diocese of Paraná.
“I had already been working for the Church, but this gives me a bigger push to be more firm in my faith,” he said July 26.
Following a press conference in Copacabana, four of the twelve spoke with CNA.
Galiano, a therapist, works in Rio de Janeiro with those who have autism.
He said he never imagined he would be eating with the Pope.
“We have been so privileged,” he said. “What has changed in my life is that now I have more responsibility because he spoke with us with authority, as a pastor and as a father.”
Galiano said he liked the Pope’s “closeness,” describing him as “such a simple person” who “hasn’t put aside the things of everyday life.”
He stressed Pope Francis’ importance as Pope, “but one realizes that he still calls his friends and that he is still himself.”
“We spoke a bit about everything and when he gave us our gift at the end, a rosary, I gave him a big hug,” said Galiano.
The twelve youths ate with Pope Francis at the Archbishop of Rio’s residence. The six men and six women were chosen by lot to represent World Youth Day pilgrims from each continent: Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Americas and Brazil.
Two of the women included Paula A. García from Colombia and Polina Grigorieva from Russia, who worked as volunteers for World Youth Day.
“The Pope really transmits God,” said Paula A. García, who was asked to translate for the youths and the Pope since she speaks both Spanish and English.
Pope Francis posed them questions including “why are you having lunch with the Pope when others are hungry in the slums?”
García said that question made the young people break into tears.
“He was telling us ‘God loves you a lot’ through the questions he asked us,” she remarked. “He didn’t tell us directly that, but he made us reflect.”
She said he made them reflect what they will do in the future against all the world’s injustices. He asked them not to do big things, but small things with love.
“We were all nervous in the beginning because we didn’t know what we were going to talk about with him, but he just came and it was very normal,” she told CNA.
She said that for her, meeting the Pope was a top point in her life, calling the meeting “the cherry on top.”
“Listening to him was reaffirming everything I had been learning spiritually up until now in my life,” said García.
“It was a very impressive atmosphere and I know we are all very moved.”
Danielle Danowsky, from Michigan, said meeting Pope Francis was amazing and that she had “no words” to describe it.
“I want to live now more profoundly the things that he said to us during the meeting,” Danowsky told CNA.
“He mentioned how we are so fortunate with our health and with what he had and that we should care for the needy,” she added.
Thomson Philip, an India-born man from New Zealand, sat at the left hand side of the Pope.
He said he felt “very blessed,” calling the meeting the “biggest opportunity” he had had in his life.
“When I received the email inviting me to this lunch, I was so shocked I almost fainted,” he told CNA.
After he confirmed the authenticity of the email, he could not even tell his parents about it because the youths were asked to keep it confidential.
Like the other youth who lunched with the Pope, Philip felt more responsibility because of the meeting.
“He asked each one of us to spread the hope of Christ among the young people,” said Philip.
He noted the Pope did not ask them to do “big things,” but “small things in our parish and in our community.”
“Go talk to the young people, listen to them and share Christ’s hope, basically,” Philip summarized.
He stressed that the Pope asked them to pray a lot, especially the rosary.