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What meeting Pope Francis was like for elementary students in Harlem

Students and community members in East Harlem were moved, sometimes to tears, by Pope Francis’ words and example during his visit to the New York neighborhood.

“It was mindblowing and at the same time very shocking,” Aaron Diaz, a third grader from Our Lady, Queen of the Angels School told CNA, “because not many people are able to meet him.”

Negueubou Kamwa, a fourth grader at Our Lady, Queen of the Angels, added that the meeting “amazing and it was like a big opportunity and a blessing,” and that the experience was so overwhelming “I started crying all over the place.”

“It was just incredible, and I cried.”

Pope Francis visited Our Lady, Queen of the Angels on Sept. 25, during the second day of his visit to New York City. While at the school, the Pope met with students from four schools in the neighborhood, as well as with migrants and refugees chosen by Catholic Charities of New York.
Diaz explained that out of over 7,000 students in the neighborhood, there were “only six of us and I was chosen.”

While the students didn’t have time to talk to Pope Francis, Pope Francis spoke to them – and was very funny, Diaz said.

“When we were singing he said ‘are you asleep!? Make it louder!’”

Diaz was also excited to receive a picture, and pulled out a his rosary. “He actually blessed it,” he explained, responding when asked if he would pray with it, “yes, I will.”

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of New York, explained to CNA that when planning the event “we wanted to make sure that he reached out and touched the communities of people in the United States,” and could not think of a better community or neighborhood for that goal than East Harlem.

The neighborhood, he elaborated “is a community that has welcomed immigrants for many many years.”

“The way we planned the event was just to try to get representatives with as many immigrant groups that Catholic Charities is working together so that the Pope could see the breadth of what is going on in New York, the breadth of how Catholic Charities is helping immigrants and refugees.”
The meeting also touched Msgr. Sullivan on a personal level as well. “For me, I just kept looking around the room and seeing it filled with so many different people from so many different countries,” he recalled. “You know, in that room, there were immigrants and refugees from every single continent except Antarctica, because the penguins wouldn’t come,” the monsignor joked.

“It was just the diversity of New York was there, and it was just a magnificent experience.”

During the meeting the Pope addressed following one’s dreams, a message which resounded with the experiences of many of the immigrants who came.

Odette Manzano, an immigrant herself, was touched by the experience. She was invited by Catholic Charities to come to the event as well as write a letter to Pope Francis, which was compiled into a book that was given to the Pope during the visit.

“It was one of a kind and it was one of the best experiences of my life and just hearing himself pronounce himself in Spanish, my native language, it was just amazing.”

She also found the Pope’s example even more inspiring in person. “He’s a leader, one of the greatest leaders, and he’s just showing what a leader should do, which is to be humble.”

By Adelaide Mena


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