Youths Grab a Bite With Benedict XVI

Present Pontiff With Gifts From Homelands

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By Anthony Barich

SYDNEY, Australia, JULY 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The 12 youth invited to lunch with Benedict XVI during World Youth Day came bearing gifts and tales from their homelands.

Those chosen to attend Friday's lunch with the Pope at St. Mary's reception hall represent the international crowd of pilgrims in attendance at World Youth Day, under way in Sydney through Sunday.

Armando Cervantes, 27, from Orange, California, gave the Pontiff a Mickey Mouse hat from Disneyland, located in his diocese.

The diocesan youth ministry coordinator also presented photos from the Holy Father's trip to the United States in April.

Benedict XVI received traditional rosary beads from Fidel Mateos Rodriguez, 25, of Spain, a billum (a small pouch) from Gabriel Nangile, 28, of Papua New Guinea, and a Coolamon (an indigenous carrying vessel) from Australia.

He was also presented with traditional fabric from Jean Fabien (Muaka Muaka Baloza), 29, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, artwork from Ijeoma Jacinta Igwe, 25, of Nigeria, and recordings of classical music from Marie-Bénédicte Esnault, 22, of France.

The Pontiff and the young people dined on sweet potato and pear soup, Chicken Diane, and lemon-and-passion-fruit meringue pie for dessert.

Benedict XVI sat between 28-year-old Korean Wonhyong Cho and 26-year-old Brazilian Jorgiana Lima de Santana.

Australian Teresa Wilson, 31, a longtime volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said it was an overwhelming honor to speak directly to the Holy Father.

Aboriginal Australian Craig Ashby, 21, a Sydney University student, said he was "proud to represent Australian and indigenous youth."

He said he spoke to the Pope about being a young indigenous man in Australia and some of the disadvantages which Aboriginals face, "but also talk about a lot of the work our Catholic Church is doing in this country for my people, especially in the area of education."

Clare Dooley, 30, a Catholic Youth Ministry Director in Christchurch, New Zealand, said meeting the pontiff has always been on her list of things to do, and that she felt honored to represent all the people from her country.

Helena de Sousa, 25, of East Timor, was also in attendance.