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World Youth Day pilgrims from Mexico surprised by private visit with Pope Francis

Father Ignacio Bello was surprised to receive a handwritten letter from the pope himself inviting him and his group of World Youth Day pilgrims to the Holy Father’s Vatican residence on the morning of July 25, 2023. / Chiara Beltrán

Rome Newsroom, Jul 27, 2023 / 15:02 pm (CNA).

When Father Ignacio Bello invited Pope Francis to join his group of young adults for their morning celebration of Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, he did not even expect to get a response, let alone a counteroffer.

The priest, a member of the Legionaries of Christ, was thus surprised to receive a handwritten letter from the pope himself inviting him and his group to the Holy Father’s Vatican residence on the morning of July 25.

“I was very moved because I never expected that,” Bello told CNA. “I sent the letter to a common mailbox. But when I sent the letter, I prayed to the Blessed Mother that she would deliver that letter to him.”

The group from Guadalajara, Mexico, was in Rome for the first part of a pilgrimage that will culminate in the international Catholic gathering known as World Youth Day, to take place in Lisbon, Portugal, at the start of August.

Bello said he decided to send a letter to Pope Francis after feeling the desire in his heart. “I thought, why not? Pope Francis has told us to pursue our dreams.”

“When I received the [pope’s] response I was filled with joy,” the Catholic priest said, noting that he had to read the letter several times before reality sank in.

The young adults from Mexico, who are 18–35 years old, are associated with the Regnum Christi Federation. The group of 50 is led by Bello, Brother Adrián Olvera, and three women consecrated with Regnum Christi: Cecilia Canovas, Andrea Infantozzi, and Trisha McClellan.

McClellan told CNA the visit to the pope was “a huge surprise,” especially because Bello didn’t tell the group what was happening until just after Mass and before the visit.

The consecrated woman, who is originally from Akron, Ohio, explained that they had no idea whether the meeting would just be a wave and a handshake or something more.

In the end, Pope Francis spent about 25 minutes in conversation with the young people, who are mostly from Mexico, in a receiving room in the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.

Father Ignacio Bello and a group of World Youth Day pilgrims received a surprise invitation from Pope Francis. Credit: Chiara Beltrán

“The young adults just sat down, kind of in a circle, and we just talked,” McClellan said. “It was just a fraternal conversation really.”

The Regnum Christi pilgrimage group met in Rome on the evening of July 24. After a full day at the Vatican and Rome on July 25, the bunch boarded a bus for visits to Catholic shrines in Cascia, Assisi, Lanciano, and San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy.

The pilgrimage will proceed to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina for three days before flying to Lisbon for World Youth Day. In Portugal, they will also visit the Catholic shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

McClellan said the young adults in the group asked Pope Francis questions and for his advice. They found out why his favorite saint is St. Thérèse of Lisieux and that his advice for how to have a good prayer life is to talk to God like a friend, sharing the ordinary things of one’s day.

Conversing with Pope Francis was also like “talking with a friend,” McClellan said.

The consecrated woman noted that another topic of discussion was the Disney documentary “The Pope Answers,” released earlier this year and featuring Pope Francis’ discussion with 10 members of Generation Z.

She said the young adults expressed how the pope’s act of listening to the young people in the documentary made an impression on them.

The whole meeting was “a beautiful encounter, a beautiful gift,” she said.

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