When a group of high school students meet with Pope Francis on October 12 to talk about the young church in the United States, two teenagers from the Archdiocese of Louisville will be among them.
Tania Vergara-Gongora, a member of St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky., and Destiny Morris, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in West Louisville, say they are still figuring this out. What does it mean to attend a private audience with the Holy Father?
Vergara-Gongora, a high school student from Ballard High School, said upon learning of the invitation less than two weeks ago, she had to “break it down and process it.”
“I really couldn’t believe it. I had tears running down my face because I was so excited,” she said.
Morris, a Mercy Academy junior, said: “It was shocking. My heart started beating. To have this once in a lifetime experience is amazing.
Both students are members of the National Youth Advisory Council, a 12-member group formed this year by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). The council – made up of young people from all over the country – was invited by the Vatican to meet the pope.
Christina Lamas, is the federation’s executive director and said the board acts as an “advisory body” for the organization.
Lamas said the federation asked the group to reach out to their peers with two questions:
– What do you want the Holy Father to know about young people in the United States?
– What would you like the Holy Father to do for young people?
Now that the initial surprise has worn off, the students said they are seriously considering representing their peers to Pope Francis. And they think about what they want to say.
Vergara-Gongora consulted with the eighth-grade class at St. Mary Academy on Oct. 3, and Morris reached out to his peers in Mercy’s theology classes.
Morris said his peers responded that they wanted the church to do more on issues such as racism and gun violence.
Morris said she wanted Pope Francis to know that young people have a lot to do. Many struggle with “worldly influences,” especially from social media, she said.
And she would like to see him in relation to young people, she says.
“I want the Holy Father to speak to us directly, instead of going through the bishops,” she said. She would like to hear him say, “’I’m here with you. I see you.’ ”
She added that young people are not just the future of the church, but the present.
Vergara-Gongora said she hopes to impress upon Pope Francis that there is an opportunity to reach young people who are not involved in the church.
“I would like him to know that it’s very difficult, because not many young people are involved, at least the ones I see,” she said. “There is work to be done to reach them.”
Lamas said the meeting will be a “historic meeting” and “a powerful moment for the young church.”
The National Youth Advisory Council is a new initiative of NFCYM. Its mission is to “model shared leadership and empower young people to be missionary disciples and protagonists in the church,” Lamas said. “He was led by the Spirit from the time they were appointed.”
The 12 teenagers on the council were nominated by adults in their respective dioceses for two-year terms. The group first met in August via video conference and shared a desire to reach out to their peers, Lamas said.
“Now having this opportunity, we hope it takes them to a new level,” she said.
Morris and Vergara-Gongora are “wonderful”, she said. And their desire to serve the church is “powerful and very moving.”
That the Archdiocese of Louisville and its church communities have reached out to help them make the trip possible is a “testimony to the fact that they are not the future but the present of this church,” Lamas said. .
The Archdiocese of Louisville and student parishes worked together to help fund the cost of the trip.
The students leave for Rome on October 9. Nine of the 12 council members plan to make the trip.