Ryerson University student Gérard Byamungu meets with Pope Benedict XVI at a student congress in Rome earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Lori Neale

Meeting Pope highlight of congress

  • December 13, 2011

TORONTO - For Gérard Byamungu, the most memorable part of the Third World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students in Rome was meeting the Pope.

“It was a gesture of appreciating what we do as international students,” said Byamungu, an international student studying at Toronto’s Ryerson University on shaking hands with Pope Benedict XVI. “I was very happy that I had the chance to meet him and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

While all delegates had an audience with the Pope, only select participants had the opportunity to shake his hand.

The congress, themed “International Students and the Meeting of Cultures,” was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and took place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. Its objective was to put together a document with some very practical strategies that will act as a basis document for Catholic universities, chaplains and anyone who is in contact with international students, said Fr. Daniel Renaud, chair of the Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry.

“The idea was to affirm international university students as cultural mediators so that people that have been in a host culture, when they go back to their own culture, through their Catholic experience can continue to be a connection between cultures,” said Renaud.

Canadian university campuses have an estimated 103,000 international students, about 10 per cent of the student population.

Renaud said the congress included presentations, workshops and discussions, and gave students the opportunity to interact with the curia. Some of the curia in attendance were Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. 

“In my mind, it kind of demystifies how Roman curia functions,” said Renaud. “And you might say it breaks some stereotypes they have about people not being accessible.”

Byamungu, an international student from Rwanda, spoke at one of the panels. He said he learned a lot from other groups and plans to make a recommendation to hold a national yearly event in Canada that will bring all international university students together.

Katrina Laquian, a sociology student at the University of Victoria, was the other student delegate from Canada.

The congress showed student participants how large the Church is, said Renaud.  “It’s an occasion to be more inspired when they go back on their campus and to see they can be leaders.”

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