The opportunity to visit Rome came through my involvement in Brescia University College Campus Ministry in London, Ont.
In late September, Catherinanne George, Brescia’s campus ministry director, presented me with an opportunity to apply to be the Canadian student representative at the IV World Congress for the Pastoral Care of International Students.
Catherinanne and I both submitted applications through Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry and the Canadian Catholic Students’ Association in a process where one student and one campus minister were chosen to represent Canada at the Vatican. By Thanksgiving, we received the news that we were both selected and our journey to prepare for the Congress began.
On Dec. 1, 2016, I walked into the Sala Clementina at the centre of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City with 130 other members of the IV World Congress to visit Pope Francis.
He met with each of the delegates individually after his address. As representatives of Canada, Catherinanne and I walked together up the centre aisle to meet him and present our gifts.
She carried 5,000 small metal doves to be blessed and to take back to Canada and share with our communities. Running his hands through them, he blessed them by the sign of the cross.
When he turned to me, I presented him with three gifts: a journal with messages of appreciation, an adult colouring book created by Brescia Campus Ministry and a picture of a large mural that 500 members of the Brescia community had coloured and signed.
He reached out to bless the gifts in my arms, but I instead offered them to him, saying, “For you.” A large smile spread across his face and he placed his hands to his chest as if to say, “For me?” He then graciously took the gifts and shook both of our hands.
To be in Pope Francis’ presence was a remarkable experience because you could tell that he was genuinely engaged with every single member of the Congress, as if you were the only person in the room.
Although meeting the Pope was a very special and humbling experience, it was only a small part of the Congress.
The theme for this Congress was “Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis and moral challenges in the intellectual world of international students, towards a healthier society.”
Catholic delegates from all across the globe were joined with ecumenical and interfaith delegates representing Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and the World Council of Churches to discuss the care of international students and their impact on society.
I was honoured to be one of the student delegates to make a presentation on behalf of North America in a round-table discussion on social dialogue in university life towards the common good of the society. In my presentation, I detailed the accommodations and opportunities available to international university students in Canada.
The experience of talking with people from all over the world, who speak in many different languages and come from vastly different backgrounds, brought new light to the concern and care for international students.
These students are a vulnerable population with limited resources and no family or friends to help them once they arrive in a foreign land. They need advocates to take their concerns and give them a voice.
We were a part of history, contributing to the development of proposed guidelines and a pastoral statement to be approved by the Holy See.
This was a life-changing experience and I am forever humbled to have played a part in such important work.
(McLellan, 20, is a second-year psychology student at Brescia University College in London, Ont.)