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ND senior travels to Vatican, meets Pope Francis

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The head of the Roman Catholic Church now owns a copy of the book “The Chapels of Notre Dame,” thanks to senior Juan Manuel Segura, who traveled to Rome with his family in October to briefly meet Pope Francis.

Segura and his family have been good friends with Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mejia for the past 20 years, and he said the Cardinal’s acquaintance with Pope Francis made the meeting possible.

“[Cardinal Mejia] has visited our house in Washington, D. C., and he has confirmed and baptized a lot of members in our family,” Segura said. “It’s through him that my family and I were able to get the opportunity to go to Rome and be a part of the papal audience, especially to meet [Pope Francis] and actually shake hands with him and say a couple words.”

Segura said he, his parents and two of his five siblings made the whirlwind trip to the Vatican and back, arriving in Italy on Tuesday, Oct. 1, and flying back to the United States on Thursday, Oct. 3. They met Francis following a public papal audience in Saint Peter’s Square, where the pope offered reflections on the day’s readings.

“All of Saint Peter’s Square was really filled with people waiting to hear his message on a couple of readings that day,” Segura said. “My family speaks Spanish because my parents are Argentine, so when we spoke to him for about 30 seconds we spoke in Spanish.”

The family was ushered to a special section at the top of the steps of the Square, Segura said, and Francis made his way down the line to talk individually to each person there.

The pope kept them waiting, however, when he made a point of going directly to a separate section of people with disabilites and talking to each of them first, Segura said.

“There was a special thin section at the front where people with disabilities or people in wheelchairs were, and after he gave his remarks, instead of coming to us, he went down to talk to them,” Segura said. “He said many words to each and every one of the people who were disabled, and he took his time. Then he came up to us.”

Segura said he and his family were the last in the line of people who had the chance to meet Francis.

“My brother, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2010, went first, and he sort of made a joke,” Segura said. “He offered him a rosary, and I think Francis was going to bless it, but my brother actually said, ‘No, no, I want you to have it. You have many rosaries already, but please have this one too.’

“And then I was next, and I was kind of shocked. I completely forgot what I was going to say.”

Segura said he brought the book “The Chapels of Notre Dame” from campus to give to the pope.

“I was talking to [Pope Francis] and I was saying ‘I’m a student at Notre Dame and you’re a huge inspiration,’” he said. “It was all in Spanish. There was a priest with us who had helped usher us in, and he told me, ‘The book, give him the book,’ because I had completely forgotten about that and was about to not give it to him.

“So I realized where I was, I got the book and I gave it to him. I said, ‘This book shows all the chapels at Notre Dame, that’s my school, I study there. This book has pictures of each and every chapel on campus, and I want to give it to you as a gift.’”

Segura said Francis didn’t say anything specifically about the gift because nearly everyone had brought something to offer him, but the moment was still very special to him.

“I guess it was more of an opportunity for me to come to him, to give him something and to say something to him,” he said. “It was just a very joyful moment.”
Before the one-on-one meeting, Segura said he found Francis’ reflections profound and “very inspirational.”

“Francis is Italian and Argentinian, and he’s got those huge inflections in his voice, and he puts unique emphasis on all these points, which really struck a chord with us,” he said. “His voice really is compelling and draws your attention. It’s very dynamic.

“It’s different from reading what he has to say versus seeing him and seeing how he says it,” he said.

Francis’ statements were characterized by his humility and honesty, Segura said.

“He talked about how the Church is not holy because the people are holy; it’s holy because God is holy, and everyone is a sinner,” Segura said. “He made a really special emphasis on how it’s not just the lay people who sin, but he is a sinner too; we’re all sinners. It was very enlightening to see how humble he was.”

Segura said Francis continued his message of inclusion and openness with both his words and his actions during the event.

“He talked about the Church’s relationship towards sinners and how we all have this mission to be holy, no matter who you are,” he said. “He said we shouldn’t necessarily look for people who are like-minded, but rather, we should be open to everyone and welcome all. That spirit and message of inclusion was huge.”

After studying abroad in Rome last fall and visiting the Vatican for Easter Vigil Mass last spring, Segura said this trip was his third time in Rome this year.

“I’ve been in close proximity with Francis twice now,” he said. “I went to Mass with [Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI] last fall, and every Sunday at noon [Benedict] used to say a couple words from his apartment, and I went to a couple of those. I’m lucky that I really got to see the transition of the two firsthand.”

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at ajakubo1@nd.edu