Youth still feel the impact of John Paul II

CHARLESTON — As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for his installation, young people in the Diocese of Charleston remember being moved by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Jerry White, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults for the Diocese of Charleston, led several trips to World Youth Days. He said Pope John Paul II was like a rock star but he held young people’s focus because he included them in the church.

“When somebody that important has the desire to make the young people a focal point, it has an effect,” he said. “In his encyclicals he was always calling young people to be part of their faith, and they really grasped on to that. He called them forth and told them they had a place in the church, not just in the back in a pew but in the life of the church.”

Daniel Hudacko, 19, from Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia, saw the pope at World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada.

“He was the only pope I’ve known my entire life,” he said. “He had a holy presence. When he was there, you could really tell that he was for the youth. He felt revived by the youth, and he revived the youth and their faith.”

Hudacko was on the diocesan youth evangelization team when he was in high school. He is home for a semester off from Princeton University and works at an area amusement park. All the media coverage has his coworkers talking about Catholicism. He has had to clear up some misconceptions and evangelize in the process.

“They ask why are we worshiping the pope, and they misunderstand all the beautiful tradition around it,” he said. “I tell them we’re not worshiping him, we’re honoring him. He’s a holy man and the head of our church, so we honor him the same way we honor any passing leader. We’re honoring the differences he’s made and the way he inspired us.”