For Social Justice and Catholic Studies student John Doromal an unexpected email from Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies Dr. Peter Baltutis presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: an invitation to virtually meet with Pope Francis.

Doromal was selected to take part in a virtual meeting with the Pope on February 24. The event, entitled Building Bridges North-South: A Synodal Encounter Between Pope Francis and University Students, was hosted by Loyola University Chicago in collaboration with the Pontifical Institute for South America as part of the Pope’s Synod on Synodality, a process of consulting Church members around the world to gather their thoughts on the issues of the day.

“When I first received the email from Dr. Baltutis, I was quite surprised and astonished. My initial reaction was one of disbelief—especially when I saw Pope Francis’ name and my nomination for this opportunity,” explained Doromal. “I definitely felt a sense of imposter syndrome because I kept asking ‘why me? There are so many other students that are more academically/spiritually sound.’ Nonetheless, in the midst of all of this, I was affirmed by my friends, family, and professors that I was more than capable of engaging in this opportunity and that there was no sense in comparing myself to other people. In fact, I remember a close friend sharing with me, “you are where you are meant to be.” These words have always resonated with me and reminded me that nothing is ever random in life—each moment and opportunity has a purpose and a meaning far greater than anything I could imagine for myself. So I said ‘yes.’”

With an emphasis on creating concrete educational projects to effect environmental and economic change, the February 24 meeting primarily focused on issues relating to migration. Students from seven regions in North, Central, and South America met online in advance of the virtual gathering to develop ideas on how to respond to migration challenges, reflecting on the various causes behind and how the Church should respond.

John Doromal

“I feel immensely blessed and grateful to have encountered the Pope and University students from North, Central, and South America to address salient challenges of our times. I find it very appropriate that we centered our conversations around migration as today’s displacement rates are horrible—dehumanizing experiences constitute a humanitarian crisis. I find that migration/displacement is also an issue that points away from itself, leaving room for reflection on its root causes. Dialoguing with these other University students has allowed me to recognize the importance of engaging in conversation in terms of our frustrations, dreams, hopes, and aspirations for the Church in the hopes of not only addressing the signs of the times, but also striving towards justice, the coming good, and highlighting the indispensable dignity of each human person.”

“There is a need to broaden the discourse on migration and migrants, to counter negative stereotypes and shine the light of truth on the reality of human migration and displacement. There is also a need to nurture the imagination of migrants, to ensure that people who migrate, especially children, have a realistic and hope-filled vision of their present circumstances, the future possibilities, and their place in it.”

Doromal credits his studies in the Social Justice and Catholic Studies degree program at St. Mary’s for preparing him for an opportunity such as this.

“The Social Justice and Catholic Studies degree has facilitated my growth in critical, analytical, and ethical skills, which have been helpful in engaging in the injustices in the world through a Catholic intellectual lens. In essence, this program has allowed me to engage with the world critically and has fostered a fervent desire in me to create real change.”