An archdiocesan high school student recently traveled to Rome to meet Pope Francis – and he’s brought back a message of hope for the nation’s youth.
Sam Gorman, a junior at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, and fellow delegates from the National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) traveled to the Vatican for a series of meetings that included an Oct. 12 papal audience.
Joining the delegation were Archbishop Nelson Pérez, Marisally Santiago, director of the archdiocesan Office for Ministry with Youth (OMY) and NFCYM executive director Cristina Llamas.
(Related: Archbishop Pérez leads delegation to meet Pope Francis)
Based in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit NFCYM provides broad leadership for Catholic youth ministry throughout the country. Its advisory council, launched this past summer, represents a diverse group of young people from various states and cultural backgrounds, with members working to ensure Pope Francis’ pastoral guidance reaches youth.
Council members began their pilgrimage Oct. 9 in Chicago and then headed to Rome, where they gathered for prayer, reflection and discussion.
On Oct. 12, Archbishop Pérez presented the delegation to Pope Francis at an outdoor papal audience. During the gathering, the group and the pope exchanged messages, with the former offering letters written by Catholic youth in the U.S.
For Gorman, the encounter was an opportunity to let the pope know “how the youth are really struggling and feel alone.”
Grades, academic success, body image and popularity all weigh on young people’s minds and hearts, he said.
“I feel like kids care so much about what others think about them,” said Gorman. “They try so hard to improve themselves, especially physically. Yet they don’t see it spiritually; they don’t want to improve their spiritual lives. They just see the worldly things, not the spiritual standpoint.”
With “so many distractions” swirling around them, youth “feel so lost and alone, and they just don’t know how to build a relationship with God, to be personal with him,” said Gorman. “They just don’t know how to listen to God in their lives, and to find peace through listening to God and trying to find out how he’s working in your life.”
That’s something Gorman said he’s been able to discern from an early age. A member of St. Patrick Parish in Malvern, he became a team leader in seventh grade for a parish-based Bible study group for middle school age children. The following year, he was elected “commissioner of liturgy” for that school’s student council, leading prayer for the school each day. Prior to leaving for Rome, students at the school wrote intentions that Gorman presented to Pope Francis.
Like the pope, Gorman is committed to reaching those often marginalized, such as persons with disabilities – including his own brother. At nearby St. Monica Parish in Berwyn, he teaches basketball to his brother and a group of fellow young adults with disabilities.
“I want Pope Francis to help with … making our faith easier for youth with disabilities to be more included and (to) find a home,” he said.
Echoing the pope’s message to the delegation, which encouraged youth to nurture hope, Gorman said he “sees joys all the time” in youth with disabilities, who can serve as a model for youth in general.
“They never give up and always have hope,” he said. “These kids are inspiring … (and) we can learn a lot from (them). That’s part of what the pope wants us to be like.”
Gorman and his fellow delegates will bring that same message to next month’s National Catholic Youth Conference, sponsored by NFCYM and Nov. 10-12 in Long Beach, CA.
“Try and see how God is working through your life. Try to see the positive each day, and how God is helping you each day,” he said. “Try to listen to him. Make time for listening and for just being in (his) presence. That is ultimately how you find peace.”
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