One teenager in the audience was David Skillman, a junior at St. John the Baptist High School in south St. Louis. Skillman attended a youth rally with the pope at Kiel Center along with 20,000 other young people, and those 95 minutes had a profound impact on his life, especially the pope’s final words to his audience.
“Christ is calling you; the church needs you,” John Paul told them, “The pope believes in you, and he expects great things of you.”
John Paul, said Skillman, “was speaking those words right to my own heart.” He says now that the late pope’s words directed him to his chosen vocation: Catholic priest.
“It was a clear sign that God had a particular plan for me and for my life,” he said.
Skillman, now 25 and a student at Kenrick-Glennon seminary, became a deacon last month and is scheduled to be ordained a priest next spring. Before that, though, he’ll have the opportunity — along with 115 of his Kenrick colleagues — to attend another youth rally with another pope, this time in New York.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington on Tuesday for his first visit since being elected pope in 2005. During his time in Washington and New York City, Benedict will celebrate both his 81st birthday (Wednesday), and the third anniversary of his election to the papacy (Saturday).
Local Catholics say they’re looking forward to seeing Benedict, even among thousands in a stadium, to hear his message of hope. In fact, they say, it is the large gathering itself — and the fellowship such gatherings foster — that inspired many of them to make the long trip east. Simply being in the presence of the man they believe is the successor to St. Peter will re-energize their faith, they said.
About 85 Catholics from the St. Louis Archdiocese will ride a bus for 18 hours to attend next Sunday’s papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. Another St. Louis group — 55 young people — will take a bus to New York for a rally and prayer service with seminarians and Benedict at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers on Saturday. Three more buses will take the Kenrick seminarians to New York.
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke will fly to Washington on Wednesday for a private prayer service and meeting between Benedict and all 350 U.S. bishops. He also will take part in the stadium Masses with the pope in Washington and New York.