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Diplomat program offers a little magic

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High School Diplomats is a life-changing cultural exchange program that I have been trying to put into words for days now. It wasn’t until two seconds ago, however, that I remembered one important detail about the program — it can’t be put into words.

Even if I stated the facts — 40 Americans living with 40 Japanese students for 10 days at Princeton University in New Jersey — the heart of the program wouldn’t even be tapped into. The program can’t be explained by numbers and facts alone, but by the stories of the craziness, love and joy that created a family of 80 strangers from across the globe.

I arrived at Princeton thinking that I was ready for everything to come, but I have never been more wrong in my life. Within days, my roommate, Yuri Miyagi from Okinawa, and I were sharing laughs, cries, our deepest secrets and darkest fears. Then, during a group discussion one day, the question of our ideal future was brought up. I looked around the room in panic as the Japanese students shared their dreams of ending poverty or being a doctor who saves kids in developing countries.

Eventually, with wide eyes and a shaky voice, I said, “Well, uh … I want to be a nun.” My new friends from America and Japan stared at me and didn’t even know what to say. Honestly, I thought I’d get a lecture about their doubts on religion, and everyone would say how weird it is to put trust in someone I’ve never seen. But after that terrifying silence, everyone started asking about Catholicism with true curiosity. Genuine questions about the Mass, the saints and my relationship with Christ were asked, and I was thrilled to answer each one.

On Sunday, I offered to take a group of students to Mass with me. There was only a handful of other Catholic students, but I made sure to explain that everyone was welcome to join. About 15 of us arrived at the start of Mass, and I was excited to introduce God to them for maybe the first time ever.

Then, after the processional hymn, a huge wave of blue came pouring into the pews. Three full rows of high schoolers wearing matching shirts definitely draws attention, but to my surprise, none of us were bothered by the stares. Each of us, Japanese and American, were drawn into the miracle of the Mass.

After the service, we all talked with the priest, and some asked for a picture with him by the statue of St. Paul. I even saw a Japanese girl grab some copies of the Magnificat to take back home with her.

I joined this program to make global connections and help others learn about my culture. Instead, by the end of it all, I was able to speak fluent Japanese for five minutes, make sushi and host a traditional tea ceremony.

These people, whom I had never met, helped me get closer to a God they never even knew. I’ve been home for a week now, and not a day has gone by that I don’t think of Yuri, Akane, Ayame and Hiyo — my sisters who live half a world away. I haven’t stopped talking about Ikki, Hayata, Ryoga and Rensei — four strangers who are now like my brothers. They call this the HSD magic. Before I began, I thought they were crazy. Now I just pray for a little more magic every day.

Pattillo is a junior at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania and a parishioner at St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018