JOHN PAUL II DINES WITH YOUTH
"A Truly Normal Man Who Does Everything in a Very Special Way"
VATICAN CITY, (ZENIT.org).- "We are on cloud nine," Roger, 26, from Toronto;
Chris, 24, from Vancouver; and Alana, 22, from Halifax said yesterday, as they continued singing
when they arrived in ZENIT's office, after dining with Pope John Paul II.
The three Canadians spent two hours in a unique meeting with the Pope in Castel Gandolfo. The Holy
Father has offered them rooms along with other youth from Sri Lanka, Guinea Bissau, Polynesia, and
Italy, representing all the inhabited continents of the world.
Alessandro, Andrea, and Simone came to ZENIT's office with the three young Canadians. Despite
the fact these young people did not speak the same language, and only met on Monday night, they
seemed to be lifelong friends. At present, they are all living as guests in the papal summer residence of
In an atmosphere of great enthusiasm, their interview with ZENIT was truly spontaneous and
disorganized. Fortunately, Alana Cormier, whose grandparents are French, was able to keep order.
"What will you tell your friends after this meeting with John Paul II?" ZENIT asked.
"The one who can answer best is Roger," Alana said, while Chris laughed at the look of surprise on his
"He is a truly normal man who does everything in a very special way. He is very human!" Roger
Gudino said, with a mischievous smile.
"The world is lucky to have someone like him," said Chris Radziminski, who is already working for the
next World Youth Day, which may be held in Canada. Chris was proud to refer to his own Polish
origin, like the Pope's. The tall, blond Canadian gave apt expression to the group's feelings. "Just being
able to come to Rome was a real dream," he said.
"Another dream was to be able to see the Pope, even from a distance. But to be with him is a truly
unique experience!" Roger said. "And there are only 12 people in the world who can talk about this
"It is incredible," Chris said, no longer able to remain silent. "Jesus left us Peter and with him, the
Pope, the spiritual leader of this immense Church! At the same time, he is a human being, who beats
the rhythm on the table when we sing."
"He is really a wise man, and he is so human," Roger interrupted, overcome with admiration.
"A pro!" Alana said, shaking her long brown hair.
"Yes but, specifically, how did it all go?" asked our reporter.
"Very informally," Alana explained. No one told us how we should dress, or what we should do or say
or not do, and not say; we were very free. When the Pope arrived, we were already in the dining
room, where the table was set in a U shape, with a large white tablecloth. The Pope's place was at
the center, distinguished by a floral arrangement and a large red armchair. We were singing. We each
greeted the Pope and shook hands with him and curtsied, and made a slight inclination to kiss his ring.
He welcomed us with affectionate gestures, took our face with his hands, and tapped our
shouldered lightly. We then took our place at table. The seating had just been arranged before by Bishop
Stanislaw, the Pope's secretary, in such a way that there was a good distribution of the different
languages. Bishop Stanislaw himself sat at the end of the table. The Holy Father then said grace and
asked us to sit down in French!"
"It is incredible how the Pope goes from one language to another, all of a sudden, without difficulty,
just like that!" Chris interrupted, snapping his fingers several times, shaking his blond hair, and opening
his blue eyes wide, in communicative joy. It was good for them to share what they had all experienced
"What happened during the dinner?" we asked.
"The Pope looked at all of us during the dinner and spoke to us. There was a microphone in front of
him, and we each went up, one by one, and introduced ourselves, stating our country of origin. At
times the Pope or Bishop Stanislaw asked a question, he tested my Polish," explained Chris jokingly.
Chris has studied civil engineering; Roger, philosophy and English literature, and Alana is in medicine.
"From the start, the Pope asked us to sing," Alana explained. "Maurissa from Sri Lanka, who was
seated at the Pope's left hand, had brought her guitar. Charles, from Guinea-Bissau, entertained us
very well. We sang the Lourdes "Ave Maria." All sang the refrain with us. The whole room
resounded! The Pope accompanied the songs by tapping the rhythm with his hand on the table. And
when we didn't know the words, we accompanied the others by clapping our hands, as in Creole
"With all this going on, were you able to eat? What was the menu?" we asked.
"If you think we were thinking of what we were eating! I remember it was very good, but I don't
know really what else to say. A simple Italian family dinner: pasta, a meat plate, dessert: a fruit cake.
And then, water and wine." Quite clearly, they were unable to be more specific about their memories.
What matters is the meeting they experienced together and with others. Chris and Roger already
knew one another. Now this experience welded the trio.
"The Pope offered you hospitality, did you give him gifts?" ZENIT asked.
"Yes!" Alana said, who brought a book and photographs of Nova Scotia, a bookmark, and a CD
recorded by her diocese. The Canadian youths gave the Pope a hockey stick with his name, John
Paul, inscribed on the back. And his number: 2, in Roman numerals, of course. It was Roger's idea.
"Because I love hockey," he explained, gently shrugging his shoulders.
The Pope surprised them by confiding, "60 years ago, I too played hockey!"
The youths from Polynesia, whose clothes were made of a fabric with blue and white flowers, gave
him three necklaces, which he put on his neck immediately. "And he did not take them off!" Chris
said. "Those from Sri Lanka gave him a flag of their country and tea. The Italians also gave him their
flag, and a T-shirt with the name of their city on the back: PISA! and their three names."
"In turn, the Pope then gave us the commemorative medal of the 15th World Youth Day, and four
Rosaries each, for our families," they all said together, finding the number 4 enormous.
"How did your families react when they heard where you would be staying?" we asked.
"They were encouraging," the three youths agreed unanimously, adding gestures to their words, while
repeating what they were told:
"Really, it is fantastic! Go! " Roger's parents told him to ask the Pope to pray for their family. His
eldest brother, who is a Catholic, made the same request. Alana asked the Pope to pray for her parish,
her diocese, and to bless several devotional objects including some medals. Her mother was at the
Halifax meeting in 1984 when John Paul II went to Canada. Chris was asked by his father to tell the
Pope how overwhelmed he was when he met deceased Cardinal Wyszynski in Rome in 1969.
The Apartments in Castel Gandolfo
The 15 youths shared an apartment with 3 rooms: 6 young women in one room, 9 young men in the
other two. They were amazed at how they understood one another, although they did not speak the
same language: all went very well among them, with no misunderstandings of any kind. There was an
"incredible atmosphere" in the little apartment. They sang a lot. One evening they sang "Silent Night"
in French. In the morning, they had breakfast outside. The table was set under an age-old tree. They
enjoyed real farm yoghurt.
On Tuesday they were welcomed by the priest and parish of Castel Gandolfo. The youngsters from
Pisa did the readings for the Mass of the Assumption. They could not stop talking about the hospitality
they received. "This Pope, who is 80 years old, who has changed the world," Chris said
enthusiastically "he loves you!"
"He is genuine, and he really cares about others," Roger added. All three were convinced that many
youth would have loved to have been in their place. All are now dreaming about taking part in the next
World Youth Day.
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