Courage, authenticity, coherence – Jesuit high schoolers meet Jesuit Pope

Fifty JEZSU tenth graders and several alumni were also present when Pope Francis met thousands of Hungarian youth in the Papp Laszló Sportarena in Budapest on 29th April. The Arena was packed with Catholic youth, buzzing with laughter, upbeat worship music and stunningly beautiful light effects.

Adoration at the Youth meeting. The Vicar of Christ gave over his place to Christ Himself.

The Holy Father spent three days in Budapest, Hungary, between 28-30th April, meeting members of the Government, Church leaders and other dignitaries, visiting the poor, the refugees, the Roma (Gypsy) community living in Hungary, catholic priests and clerics, his fellow Jesuits, and of course, the youth.

The School chaplaincy made sure everyone was preparing for the Papal visit. It was the main focus of the morning prayers, the daily Examen, and the prayers at Holy Mass in the school all week before the special weekend.

Only 50 tickets to the Youth Meeting were allocated to the JEZSU, a school of nearly one thousand students. Mrs. Kinga Rivasz-Tóth, Deputy Director of Ethos, chief organizer of the logistics of the not so mini-pilgrimage to meet the pope – explains the decision of choosing who to give the tickets: “Three years ago we were able to take more than 350 children, almost all the higher grade students, to the  International Eucharistic Congress held in Budapest in 2020. This time we had to select only a few, and we selected from the tenth grade, basically, because it is now their turn.”

The tenth graders who met the Pope

Another 120 JEZSU tenth graders traveled to the Hungarian capital to attend the Sunday Mass the next day. “We were very far from the altar, so we never saw the Pope, only on the big screens. However, the incredible crowd, all the people who gathered for one Holy Mass from all over Hungary was very impressive. It was something else to see so many Catholics together. I felt the greatness of the church and the power of community. That the church is great and is a community.”

JEZSU students going to Sunday Mass with the Pope

The students were still under the effect of their meeting with the Holy Father two days after they returned to school. “He was so spontaneous, there were parts of his speech that he did not read at all, but responded to the testimonials personally. He seemed so relaxed and inspired, and talked to us in a very personal, intimate way. I feel he really understands us.” “The thing that most touched me was the way he said we try to live in the real world, have real relationships, not just virtual ones… Of course, this is what everyone tells us, our parents, teachers, but the Pope said it with such power. He seems to know us.”

The message of Pope Francis touched the young people of Hungary. ‘I will always remember how he kept saying that God always forgives. That Jesus loves us so much.” Other teenagers found it most encouraging when the Holy Father told them to look inside, discover what is really good in themselves and build on their strengths with the help of Jesus. He reminded the young people of one boy who once gave a few fish and a few loaves of bread to Jesus and from that Jesus fed the whole crowd of thousands. “The Pope is so old, and yet he seems to know what we feel. That we feel young and sometimes we feel quite small, but we can bring whatever little we have to Jesus and he will help us do great things.“

The JEZSU students with yellow scarves

“I kept thinking about what the Pope said about prayer and telling everything to Jesus during adoration. I have been trying to do just that ever since. I am trying to spend more time outside, enjoying nature and just staying in silence.” Tódor, a JEZSU student from Transcarpathia, (Western Ukraine, with a population of about 150 thousand Hungarians) was asked to give a personal testimony on the youth meeting in front of the Pope and the thousands of youth. “I had a week to think about what I was going to say, because I was going to represent not only myself, but the Eastern Rite Catholics, Transcarpathian Hungarians in the Ukraine, and my school, the JEZSU. It is a big responsibility.”

Theodor represented the Eastern Rite Catholics, the Transcarpathean Hungarians in the Ukraine and his school, the JEZSU

Tódor got his name from Blessed Theodor Romzsa, bishop, who was martyred by the Soviets for his faithfulness to Rome. The Pope in his speech encouraged the youth to be courageous as the saintly bishop. “He even learnt a Hungarian proverb meaning ‘Nothing venture, nothing gain’ and had us all yelling, just to encourage us to be brave!”

The Holy Father also met his companions, the Hungarian Jesuits in a private audience. Fr. Ferenc Holczinger, SJ director of JEZSU asked the Holy Father how to approach generation Z. “Be authentic and coherent, speak what you do and do what you speak”, was the essence of his advice. Fr. Árpád Jancsó, SJ the school chaplain felt the Pope was relaxed and glad to see his Hungarian companions. “It was inspiring to witness the connection and warm brotherly love when the Holy Father and Fr Károly Csókay SJ, a 96 year-old Jesuit, (previously a missionary in South America, now a beloved confessor of the JEZSU students and all Catholics in Miskolc) talked, just the two of them, in Spanish. These two old men have served Jesus all their lives, and now, at the age of approaching 100, they still joyfully carry the weight of the church on their shoulders. It is encouraging and empowering for us, the younger generation.”

Pope Francis and Fr Károly Csókay SJ share a private moment during the audience with the Hungarian Jesuits. “I lived almost a hundred years, and he is my first pope to shake hands with.

The students admit that they will probably never forget their meeting with the Holy Father, it is a once in a lifetime experience. “We will try to share everything at the next School Assembly. We want to bring the Holy Father’s blessing to our friends.”