This summer I had the opportunity to go to Campobasso, Italy as the youth ambassador and representative for the United States, to meeting of Italian immigrant descendants from the Italian region of Molise. I was excited to learn about my heritage, but I became ecstatic when I learned Pope Francis would be in Campobasso during my stay and I was going to Mass with the pope. Get out – that was my first thought. This was an impossible dream come true for me. I was beside myself with joy!
I learned many lessons through this trip, especially through my privileged encounter with our Holy Father. Here are just a few reflections on the things I learned:
1. The point is the journey, not the destination.
I did not plan the details of my trip, they were planned for me. Most of my activities were out of my control. I knew my destination was Italy, and the pinnacle of the trip was seeing Pope Francis. However, sometimes we get so caught up in the final destination that we miss the lessons in the journey. We sprint past all the good things the Lord wants to teach and show us along the way.
This trip was trying. It tested my patience, my temper, my charity and my trust in the Lord’s provision.
When we first got to the airport the people who were supposed to pick us up and take us to Campobasso were running late, but we had no way of getting in touch with them. I had been up for 36 hours and in the middle of a crowded airport coffee bar made a pleading prayer – “Lord, please send us someone to help.” Ten minutes later, a small, smiling Franciscan sister walked by and offered to help the struggling Americans. She was so cheerful and willing to assist us. Proof that the Lord answers prayers very quickly.
The trip taught me patience and graciousness in stressful situations. It taught me to seek Jesus in the unexpected and improbable moments – to find the Lord in the, “still, small voice,” (1 Kings 19:12). It taught me to offer up my frustrations and small sufferings for the salvation of others. It taught me to live for the Lord’s agenda and not my own – because when you live for the Lord, He reveals Himself to you.
2. I saw Pope Francis – I saw Christ.
I got to go to Mass with Pope Francis. I can now die happy. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I saw hearts changed and opened to the Lord in a new way, directly in front of my eyes. I heard the compassion and the love he has for his flock in his voice and in the words he chose.
After the Mass ended, I ran down through the stadium bleachers to see the Holy Father leave. I had a great position on the railing, Papa was going to pass directly in front of my face. I felt like one of the people in the crowds in Jerusalem who would flock to see Jesus as He walked through the streets. The same way people cried out in faith to Jesus for healing and in love, the masses cried out in faith and hope to Papa for healing and in love.
But then he re-routed.
He took a detour, he wasn’t going to pass in front of me anymore. As I walked back to my seat, my heart hurting a little with disappointment, I noticed the Vatican secret service lining a small side street behind the stadium. Thought process: WHERE THE POLICE ARE – THE POPE SHALL BE.
I ran to the edge of the sidewalk, no fence, no barrier. It was me, one policeman and the road. Pope Francis, my Papa, passed 15 feet in front of my face. He might have been in my line of sight for 20 seconds, but it felt longer. At one point I stopped taking pictures and actually looked into his eyes.
I have no way of describing the incredible movements that took place in my heart at that moment. His face was radiant with the love of Jesus Christ. His eyes spoke Christ’s tender mercy and desire for me. His smile spoke Christ’s compassion. His wrinkles spoke Christ’s everlasting wisdom and abundant joy.
I knew in that moment that he was my father, my papa. He conveyed to me the love God the Father must have for me – an overwhelming and extravagant love, a peaceful and profound love, a healing love.
3. Language is important, communication is essential.
I speak some conversational Italian. I took Italian for 2 years in high school and college. I definitely know how to say, ‘more pasta,’ ‘no more pasta,’ and ‘I don’t know what you are saying.’ For the most part, I could make it around Italy and I understood a lot more of the language than I could speak.
Speaking with people was very stressful at times because of the language barrier. I was not always sure if they understood what I was trying to say, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I was actually saying what I intended to say. I often rephrased things a few times, using my hands and gesturing to communicate that I needed to go to the piazza or find the train station.
My frustration and stress built throughout the week.
The Lord used that stressful situation to teach me something about prayer and my relationship with Him. We need to be able to relate to our Lord: we need to ask for directions, we need to ask where something is located, we need to speak what is on our mind.
Sometimes it feels like we are speaking a foreign language. Sometimes it sounds like He is. In these moments of confusion and stress, we must take a step back, make ourselves meek and open, push past our language barriers and find a way to communicate with the Lord.
Understanding the same language is important, it makes dialogue easy. Communicating with the other person is essential. Learn to communicate with God the Father.
4. A simple witness is the most powerful evangelization.
I was blessed to have two moments to discuss my faith with strangers over the week. Right behind seeing Papa, these were my favorite moments.
These moments of witness and evangelization did not occur because I had my Bible poised and ready to hit them with some scripture, but because I was open and excited about sharing the joy I have found in my relationship with Jesus Christ.
Story Time: On the plane ride home, I started a discussion about the Catholic Church with the man beside me. We discussed the church and some difficult issues. The dialogue went well, we respectfully listened to each other and I gently corrected his misconceptions about the Catholic Church and her teachings.
He shared with me that he had fallen away from the faith and at one point in his life he had hoped his two kids would be raised in the faith. As the plane was getting ready to land and we finished our conversation, I said I would keep him and his children in my prayers. He was absolutely stunned.
His response was something like, “you’re going to what? I have never had anyone offer to pray for me before. Why would you offer to do that for me, we just met.”
I looked at him and in all honesty and said, “because you deserve to have people praying for you and because it would be an honor and privilege to do so.”
That’s all it took. An offer of prayer. He had never had someone offer to do that for him before. (SO OFFER TO PRAY FOR PEOPLE, then actually DO it.) He took a minute and then told me that because of our conversation and the joy of the faith I had shared with him, he wanted to make an effort to come back to the church.
But this is what really got me. This touched my heart the most – he said he now saw the need to raise his two young children in the church, to put them into religious education classes, to take them to the sacraments and to at least give them the option to choose the faith for their own. He said he didn’t want to shut them off from the faith and make a decision for them. Praise the Lord for His goodness!
Do not ever be afraid to share the good things the Lord is doing and has done in your life. It may be the invitation someone needed to hear, to begin their relationship with Jesus Christ.