Paschal Uche, 23, is studying pharmacy. In September 2010, he addressed the Pope on behalf of the young people in Westminster Piazza.
People often joke about me having a personal friendship with the Pope after having met him some two years ago on his visit to the UK. In fact one priest friend sometimes calls me the only son of the Pope! Although this is not the case, Pope Benedict’s years in office were a real blessing to me and many young people and I believe as young people we also had a special place in his heart and ministry.
Pope Benedict began his dialogue with the youth at World Youth Day, Cologne with the theme “we have come to worship him”. If you have ever been to a World Youth Day you will appreciate that the vibrancy and joy of our coming together is itself a cause for celebration, but this theme was typical of our Holy Father’s attitude, putting Jesus Christ as the focus of his ministry and drawing us to make him the focus of our lives. As the successor of John Paul II, Pope Benedict conveyed a clear desire to connect with the youth. In his words and actions he expressed a deep and sincere happiness in being with us to “confirm our faith and, God willing enliven our hope”.
Personally, I will always treasure that sunny summer day that turned in to a very wet and rainy night at World Youth Day in Madrid, 2011. As the Pope began to address us the heavens opened and the wind howled aggressively. I remember looking at the big screen and seeing that his notes where being blown away. But he was resilient and continued to stand united with us in the rain. He then affirmed us saying: “Our faith is greater than the rain.” Later the next day we heard that the bishops had advised Pope Benedict to leave given the adverse weather conditions but his reply was, “how a shepherd can leave his sheep?”.
It would not be unreasonable to say that for Generation Benedict, we will remember how Pope Benedict led us not only in words of wisdom and exemplary deeds but he also led us in prayer. One of the most profound moments of the papal visit to the UK was the intense silence and peace during Eucharistic Adoration in Hyde Park. Some could have said that Adoration with so many people just won’t work but in Faith, the Pope led us in prayer. This brave move was a landmark moment for many- a display to the whole world of what we are really all about and what Benedict was really all about: a people humbled by the humble love of God.
I can’t finish without sharing a little about the brief encounter I was privileged to have with him on the steps of Westminster Cathedral. Thinking that he would be looking in to the crowd, I was moved by his sincerity as, when I addressed him, he looked at me with great fondness and genuine interest. After sharing a hug with him he asked me about myself and my background and, before turning to the young people on the other side, he assured me of his prayers. He was clearly a man saturated in hours of prayer gracious and gentle inside his elderly frame was- and I am sure is still- a lively spirit and passion for life and the God of love. I recall hearing that when Benedict met with some young people in Spain he spent most of the time listening and asking questions. I was taken back so often the most educated and informed feel the need to pass on as much as they can but in this Our Holy Father once again showed his pastoral heart and desire to connect with the lives of young people.
We will be the “Generation Benedict” as the Italians often chanted “the youth of the Pope.” Benedict challenged us to live a life of gift, a life that in his words would not be easy;
Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialled the wrong number. Rather, he shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life
Address to German pilgrims who had come to Rome for the inauguration ceremony of Pope Benedict, 25/04/2005
Benedict was a gift to us: a Pope who dared us to love, stood with us in the rain, and brought us to our knees time and time again in prayer. Jesus said to Peter, our first Pope: “If you love me feed my sheep.” As a young person of Generation Benedict, I believe we have been shepherded well. In a time of challenges and constant change Pope Benedict has been a voice of God’s liberating and unchanging Truth. For this we are all grateful. May God bless him richly.