BISMARCK, ND — There aren’t many things allowed to come between a college student and his free time in Rome — especially when it involves a good game of Ultimate Frisbee. But a papal request from the Vatican, on other hand, that makes any young person stop, ponder and ask: Who me?

Jose Jimenez Jr.

Jose Jimenez Jr.

Jose Luis Jimenez Jr., a sophomore majoring in mathematics education and minoring in Catholic studies at the University of Mary and studying a semester at its Rome campus, had just wrapped up a game of Ultimate Frisbee with some classmates. They were walking back home when Dr. Michael Lombardo, the director of Mary’s Rome campus, got a call from the Vatican requesting Jimenez read for mass.

“I said yes immediately, but as soon as he told me that it was a papal mass, my legs got shaky. The first thing that popped into my head was ‘why me?’” said Jimenez through email from Rome. Born in Salinas, CA, Jimenez has lived most of his life with family in Long Prairie, MN. “The first people I told were the people on campus. They all screamed while I sat their nervously telling them what I had just said yes to. Then I told my family. They were very ecstatic about it. I remember my dad specifically saying that he was proud of me. Then I told all of my close friends back home. I have been telling everyone to pray for me because I don’t want to get nervous.”

Jose Jimenez Jr. with classmates in Rome

Jose Jimenez Jr. with classmates in Rome

Jimenez is being given the honor to serve as lector for the Mass being said by Pope Francis Friday, November 4, at 4:30 a.m. CT, for the repose of the souls of recently deceased cardinals and bishops. It can be watched live on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwbCM8wl_mY&feature=youtu.be

Up to now, the closest encounter Jimenez has had with Pope Francis came during a general audience when he drove by in his Popemobile.

“I never imagined that something like this would happen in my life,” added Jimenez. “The most I was hoping for was to see Pope Francis very close. I never asked for this, yet God blessed me with this opportunity because he plans on doing something with it. I am not sure if I’ll get to personally say hello to Pope Francis, but I have heard that he sometimes says thanks to the readers by shaking their hands during the sign-of-the-peace. So that’s what I am hoping for.”

And his experience at the University of Mary is everything he hoped for and more.

Jose Jimenez Jr. with classmates in Rome

Jose Jimenez Jr. with classmates in Rome

“The University of Mary was the type of community that I wanted to be a part of because I could see that the students were openly and wholeheartedly trying to live virtuous lives. I had never seen or experienced anything like that before and I immediately wanted to be a part of it. And it was also cheaper than the other Catholic universities.”

There may never be a clear answer to Jimenez’s question, “why me?” But to Lombardo, there could be a few good reasons. The University of Mary has had an exceptional relationship with the Vatican. He says Father Geno Sylva, an American priest from New Jersey who works at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, celebrates Mass at the same Santa Spirito church Jimenez attends and is a lector. And Lombardo adds, “Jose is an exceptional young man, prayerful, articulate, bilingual in English and Spanish, and a very good student.”

“I feel blessed. I still can’t believe it,” continued Jimenez. “God has blessed me with such an amazing opportunity and the only thing I can pray about is for God to give me the courage to confidently spread his message through me reading to his people. I am also nervous and slightly scared just because I’ll be in front of such a huge crowd.”

There was no crowd to watch his Ultimate Frisbee game. Jimenez says they weren’t really keeping score, but he is pretty sure the other team won. And nobody will be keeping “score” on Friday either, but thousands of faithful Christians and Catholics will be on hand and millions more watching and celebrating God’s message with Jimenez.