Youths lunch with pope, struck by his willingness to listen

Madrid, Spain - Twelve young Catholics who lunched with Pope Benedict VXI in Madrid Friday were struck by his simplicity and his willingness to listen to each one of them and ask questions.

Two Europeans, two Africans, two Asians, two North Americans, two South Americans and two Spaniards won the right to have lunch with the pope in a lottery among volunteers at the World Youth Day festivities.

Olivier Richard, 25, a supervisor from France, said the young people did most of the talking.

"I found it touching that the head of the Church is interested in our personal lives. We were a bit nervous when we arrived. We met not only an institution but a man, who showed he is humble and simple, who put us at ease," said Richard.

"He spoke to us about very simple things, we did not try to remake the world. Alexandra, who I just married a month ago, joined us. He said that the world needs people who commit to each other as a couple."

The discussion moved on to the fact that in society today, people are more hesitant to commit, refusing to make decisions.

Rwandan deacon Aloys Sibomana, 28, said he was "struck by the simplicity and the closeness of the pope.

"The message he gave to us that we must deepen our faith.

"He asked me about reconciliation" after the genocide in Rwanda. "I was generally struck by the full knowledge that he had of the problems," he said.

Martin Thomas Leung-Wai, 25, who has a degree in architecture and is from New Zealand, said he was "so overwhelmed to be in the presence of the pope" that he was "nervous" and "hardly spoke at all."

"It was incredible. I invited him to come and visit us, I'm not sure if he really understood, he smiled at me."

Sylvie Kambau Mujinga, 29, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was also impressed.

She doesn't remember all the subjects that were discussed, "but we laughed with him, exchanged jokes. I invited him to come to my country and he said he would like to."

Olivier Richard said the conversation was mainly about social networks, like Facebook. "He was very up to date. He asked us to use them and be real people.

"The important thing, according to the pope, was the human element in faith, the Church is the structure" that allows its expression, he said.

"As I lived in Bavaria (southern Germany) for a while I asked the Bavarian pope if he missed Weisswurst (sausage) from Munich. He smiled broadly and said he liked Italian food."

For dessert, they had a huge rectangular tart in the form of a piano, an instrument the pope plays well.