Two Archdiocese of Louisville youth headed to meet Pope Francis

When a group of high school students meets with Pope Francis Oct. 12 to talk about the young church in the United States, two teens from the Archdiocese of Louisville will be among them.

Tania Vergara-Gongora, a member of St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky., and Destiny Morris, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in west Louisville, say they are still processing what it means to attend a private audience with the Holy Father. 

Vergara-Gongora, a senior at Ballard High School, said when she found out about the invitation less than two weeks ago, she had to “break it down and process it.”

“I definitely couldn’t believe it. I had tears running down my face because I was so excited,” she said.

Morris, a junior at Mercy Academy, said, “It was shocking. My heart started pounding. To have this once-in-a-lifetime experience is amazing.”  

The two students are members of the National Youth Advisory Council, a 12-member group formed this year by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). The council — composed of youth from across the country — was invited by the Vatican to meet with the pope.

Christina Lamas, serves as the executive director of the federation and said the council acts as a “consultative body” for the organization.

Lamas said the federation has asked the group to reach out to their peers with two questions: 

-What do you want the Holy Father to know about young people in the United States?

-What would you like the Holy Father to do for young people?

Now that the initial surprise has worn off, the students said they are thinking of the seriousness of representing their peers to Pope Francis. And they’re thinking about what they want to say. 

Vergara-Gongora consulted the eighth-grade class at St. Mary Academy Oct. 3 and Morris reached out to her peers in theology classes at Mercy. 

Morris said her peers responded that they want the church to do more about issues like racism and gun violence. 

Morris said she wants Pope Francis to know that the youth have a lot to contend with. Many struggle with “worldly influences,” especially from social media, she said. 

And she’d like to see him in relationship with young people, she said.

“I want the Holy Father to speak directly to us, instead of going through the bishops,” she said. She’d like to hear him say “ ‘I’m here with you. I see you.’ ” 

She added that young people aren’t just the future of the church but the present.

Vergara-Gongora said she hopes to convey to Pope Francis that there’s an opportunity to reach young people who are not involved in the church. 

“I’d like him to know that it’s very hard, because not many youth are involved, at least the ones I see,” she said. “There’s work to be done to reach them.” 

Lamas said the meeting will be a “historic encounter” and is “a powerful moment for the young church.”

The National Youth Advisory Council is a new initiative of the NFCYM. Its mission is to “model shared leadership and empower young people to be missionary disciples and protagonists in the church,” said Lamas. “It’s been led by the Spirit from the time they were nominated.”

Tania Vergara-Gongora, a member of the National Youth Advisory Council, helped a St. Mary Academy eighth-grader scan a QR code containing questions to ask Pope Francis Oct. 4. Vergara-Gongora and eight other youths will meet with the pope Oct. 12 at the Vatican. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The 12 teens on the council were nominated by adults in their individual dioceses to serve a two-year term. The group first met in August through videoconferencing and shared an eagerness to reach out to their peers, said Lamas. 

“Now having this opportunity, we hope this will take them to a new level,” she said.

Morris and Vergara-Gongora are “wonderful,” she said. And their desire to serve the church is “powerful and very moving.” 

The fact that the Archdiocese of Louisville and its church communities have reached out to help them make the trip possible is a “testament to the fact that they’re not the future but the present of this church,” said Lamas.

The Archdiocese of Louisville and the students’ parishes have collaborated to help fund the cost of the trip.

The students leave for Rome on Oct. 9. Nine of the 12 council members plan to make the trip.

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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