WALTHAM — The voices of more than 200 excited seventh-graders filled the auditorium of McDevitt Middle School, wondering why they were gathered Wednesday morning.
Dylan Lopez, one of their classmates, knew. He knew why the mayor was there — and the superintendent and members of the school board and US Representative Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.
“Good morning, seventh-graders,” Clark said to the murmuring crowd.
Clark explained that Pope Francis was coming to address Congress in Washington, D.C., during his trip to the United States next week, and each representative received one ticket to bring a guest to watch his speech inside the House chamber. (Think: Willy Wonka and his golden tickets.)
Her guest, Clark said, is “one of the seventh-graders who is here today.”
Clark held an essay contest to select her guest. Her office received 30 submissions from teachers, activists, and even the homeless. But it was 500 words written by a 12-year-old boy, whose parents are from the pontiff’s native Argentina and who, like Francis, believes in helping the poor and empowering immigrants, that won.
“My dream is to help Hispanic immigrants who are discriminated against in a daily basis,” he wrote. “It hurts my soul.” His mother and father fled Argentina in 2001 during an “economic crisis that destroyed entire families. My parents arrived with nothing.”
And who is he?
“He is,” Clark told a quieting auditorium, “Dylan Lopez.”
As the room erupted into applause, Dylan smiled shyly. He already knew. Clark’s staff told him the day before.
“Speech!” some of his classmates called from their seats.
“It’s an honor to meet with the pope. It’s a dream,” said the boy with a cross hanging from his neck. “There’s many immigrants around the world, and many children around the world, who want to met the pope.”
When his father told him about the 500-word essay contest, Dylan said, “I thought why not?”Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.