“The children are going wild with excitement,” said a startled commentator for Sky News.
Addressing the pope on behalf of youngsters in England, Wales and Scotland, Uche said: “Pope John Paul II said that our faith is a noble and authentic adventure. And we really desire for other young people to experience this. It is our prayer that your visit inspires us to be saints, saints of the third millennium.”
The crowd exploded in cheers and applause. Benedict smiled. Uche seemed taken aback by the rapturous reaction.
“Holy Father, for many of us, before today you were a face on television or a picture in a church,” Uche said.
“But today we behold you face to face, and on behalf of the Catholic youth of this great nation I would like to express my profound and heartfelt gratitude for your visit. Thank you, and may God bless you.”
With that, Uche was led over to the pope, who patted him on the shoulder and then clasped his hand as they exchanged a few private words.
Last month, almost 10 years on from that memorable day, Uche was ordained to the priesthood. It was the end of a long journey for the young man who became, from that moment in 2010 onwards, a kind of figurehead for young Catholics in Britain.
Uche (pronounced “oo-chay”) was ordained Aug. 1 by Bishop Alan Williams at Brentwood Cathedral in Essex. The Mass featured a cantor and drummers from the Blessed Cyprian Tansi Choir, reflecting Uche’s Nigerian heritage.
At the end of the ordination ceremony, Williams read a letter from Benedict XVI. In it, the Pope Emeritus expressed his delight at the ordination and said that he would pray for Uche, commending him to Mary, the mother of Christ.
The Diocese of Brentwood’s website reported that afterwards Uche said: “I felt that the occasion was so much bigger than us –- it was about the Universal Church. The connection to the papal visit with the letter from Pope Benedict was a lovely thing to have happened. Those are the things you hold on to.”
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“When I greeted him all those years ago, I told him in a private moment that I was thinking about priesthood, and he said he would pray for me. I wrote to him twice about the ordination and had no response. But when my mother wrote, a reply came. It was a bit like the miracle at Cana!”
In his interview with EWTN GB, Uche recalled that he had felt a personal connection to Benedict XVI even before he began speaking.
“So I remember looking over at him and then looking to my script there, getting ready to read. And then as I glanced back to him, he was very focused on me. And it changed the whole dynamic, I think, of the talk, of the speech, because I felt I was really addressing him and he was really receiving that,” he said.
He noted that when Benedict leaned in to greet him, they had brushed faces, giving Uche a sense of the pope’s “great gentleness” and grandfatherly spirit.
“He went on to ask me a bit about myself -- and again that sense of him being interested in who I was. He didn’t know me from anywhere, but I really felt there was a warmth and a gentleness to his character,” he said.
In the following days, Uche was inundated with Facebook friend requests and messages from people saying how touched they were by the event.