By Seàn-Patrick Lovett and Francesca Merlo
He is 15 years old and his name is Johnson. Before taking the 27-hour flight from Harare, he had never left his homeland of Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa. Now he’s here in Panama, Johnson is thrilled and delighted. Mostly, because the World Youth Day experience means he can “mix and mingle” with so many different people from so many different countries. It also means he can “exchange souvenirs to show some people back home”. But, his absolute priority is, of course, “to see the Pope!”.
The question is: What would Johnson say to the Pope, if he actually got to meet him, or had the chance to write him a note?
Johnson hesitates only long enough to catch his breath: “Dear Pope”, he begins, “my name is Johnson from Zimbabwe, and I came to Panama for the World Youth Day. This is my first time and I am so excited to see you, and I hope that I will see you again sometime”.
Pope Francis invariably asks everyone to pray for him. But Johnson doesn’t wait to be asked. He ends his make-believe note with a promise: “…and I will keep on praying for you. Every day”.
An African invitation
“Come to Zimbabwe!”. Johnson’s fellow pilgrims quickly follow up with an invitation to visit their country. “We will welcome you”, they insist, we will show you “the Third Wonder of the World”. They are referring, of course, to the majestic Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world.
Meanwhile, they say, “we thank the Lord for the opportunity” to be in Panama. Together with people from so many parts of the world, “we are praying for our country”, they say. They have been impressed by the “type of prayer” they have experienced at World Youth Day in Panama, along with the “welcome and the love”.
And this, the Zimbabwean pilgrims say, is what they will be taking back home.