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2 Tell of Their Lunch With the Pope

Interviews With Youth Representatives

COLOGNE, Germany, AUG. 21, 2005 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI lunched with a dozen youth from around the world on Friday at the archbishop of Cologne's residence. Below are interviews with two of the youth, and their impressions of the encounter with the Pope.

* * *

Lubica Jovanovic, 19, from the Australian Archdiocese of Sydney, gave Pope Benedict a toy koala bear and kangaroo upon their meeting.

Jovanovic: Lunch with the Pope today was really emotional at the beginning, I had butterflies in my tummy, I was so nervous as I didn't know what to expect. But, once he walked in, I just started to cry. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I couldn't believe it was happening to me. It was such an honor and I will always remember this day.

During lunch it was a little difficult to follow the conversation as the conversation was mostly in German, French or Spanish, rather than English. But just as I was feeling a little left out, Pope Benedict would speak to me and just look straight into my eyes. I felt so engaged.

Q: This Pope however is a different one than what you were expecting when you originally registered for this pilgrimage. What is it about Benedict XVI that means so much to young people?

Jovanovic: I think there's something really special about this Pope. I hadn't really seen him properly until today and I realized how engaging he is and how interested he is in every person from around the world. He is just a gift and something so different at the same time. I don't really know how to explain it.

When we were talking, the press was all around us, but he didn't seem to notice. We were his priority. To be recognized and loved in that way is really important for a young person.

A lot of youth today are looking for love via the secular temptations of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but in seeing the way our Holy Father interacts with us, I think he offers another option of how to experience love -- the pure love of Christ.

I wish that everyone could have had this experience because I am just so happy -- I can just remember his face and how much I wanted to hug him because he reminded me of a big, beautiful teddy bear. The atmosphere was so peaceful and I felt so good that I feel that I had a little nibble of paradise.

Q: Now this Pope is the spiritual father of faithful the world over and for the youth -- is that the sense you are getting from the experience of WYD?

Jovanovic: Yes I am. One of the others at the lunch today asked him the question: What do you think we should do? And he answered that me should make Christ our center and then everything would go well. I might have heard this 10,000 times before now, but coming from him it really inspires me to go deeper in my faith, to make God my No. 1.

He has so much to offer with just his presence, there's really something special about him.

Q: Well, rumor has it that the next World Youth Day might be Down Under. What do you think of that?

Jovanovic: It would make me so happy to have the world to come to my home of Sydney -- I would drag everyone there to experience the joy -- it would be the best time ever! And I have a feeling now that it will happen because when I introduced myself to the Pope and said where I was from -- Australia -- his eyes lit up and he said: "Oh, yes, the host country of the next World Youth Day, no?" I answered excitedly: "Yes, God willing." To this he said: "Yes, yes."

So I have a strong feeling that it will be in Sydney, and if it is, it's going to really change history -- I can barely wait until his official announcement on Sunday.

Q: On the boat yesterday, the Pope spoke about opening your heart to Christ and to let him speak to you. What did these words mean to you?

Jovanovic: When I heard him say these words I agreed with him straight away because when I converted to the faith four years ago, my life changed totally for the better. And when I look at his life, it's an example of trusting in the will of God -- as a priest, then as a bishop, then as an archbishop, cardinal and now Pope.

It makes me feel more strongly that God will lead me to different places -- I don't know, I might become a nun, I might get married -- anything can happen when it's all in God's hands.

A few years back I would never have imagined myself being a youth minister of the Sydney Archdiocese, but with God's help anything is possible!

* * *

Johnny Bassous, 20, represented his youth group from Bethlehem in the Holy Land.

Bassous: For me it was such a great blessing and such a pleasant meeting that I too felt very blessed and uplifted in my heart to meet such a blessed Holy Father, and I felt like he was really very close to us.

His words were so touching, uplifting and encouraging for our Christian faith. He mentioned the words "deepening our faith" more than once and that we need to live out our Christian life among other peoples of different backgrounds peacefully, especially those who live in countries comprised of diverse religions.

He also mentioned a part of Scripture from Peter 1 which says that we should give reasons of hope for those who ask us about our Christian faith -- in other words, our life speaks to other people and motivates them to ask us about why we live in such a manner, so it was so great to hear these encouraging words from him.

Q: You mention the Pope's words on bridging gaps among different cultures, and that this is a theme felt deeply in the Holy Land. How do you feel that this meeting with the Pope today will help you to personally continue to try to make a difference to promote peace in your homeland?

Bassous: You know, one of the greatest commandments that the Lord gives us is to love our neighbors, and even love our enemies -- not that I see anyone as my enemy. The bible teaches us how to love and live together.

So, for me, encouraged by the urgings of this Pope, I think that loving others in this way -- loving the Muslims and the Jews together with my fellow Christians -- is one of the solid things that I can do to begin our dialogue of peace. This is the message -- of reconciliation -- that I want to carry back home by living out my Christian life on a daily basis.

Q: The Pope himself has given us an example of how we can do this. Just before he came to have lunch with all of you, he met with the Jewish community of Cologne in the synagogue here. What did this gesture signify for you?

Bassous: For me, when I hear of such occurrences, I feel very happy because as Christians, we are called to break down all the borders and barriers among peoples.

I remember when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, went to pray at the Wailing Wall, and visited the mosques of the Muslims. This represented that he is a man not only of words, but of deeds and actions. This is an example of what we are all called to do.


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