The Invitation of a Lifetime

“Hello Ian.  This is Clayton Imoo from Vancouver.  I just want to make sure that this invitation to Rome is legit.”

“Yes, Mr. Imoo.  I can assure you that it is definitely legit.”

I wasn’t sure what astounded me more: the fact that I had been invited to Rome or how I made a government official use the word “legit” in a sentence.

Just after 5pm on Wednesday I checked my work email from St. Paul Parish, where I usually am on Wednesday afternoons and evenings for PREP.  Upon my first reading of the email sent to me at 4:30pm from the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General, I thought it was spam.  Then, I checked my work voicemail and a similar message was there.  Thus, I anxiously called the number provided to confirm its legitimacy.

Indeed, I had been invited by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada (who had been asked by the Prime Minister of Canada) to attend the Inaugural Mass of Pope Francis on behalf of Canada.  According to the email, the Governor General would be bringing a small delegation of Canadians with him and would be thrilled if I was able to accompany him as a member of the delegation.  I had to be in Ottawa by 8am Sunday morning – no exceptions.

My heart was racing as I hung up the phone.  Who in his right mind would nominate me of all people for such an honour?  And what was the criteria?  Surely it wasn’t looks.  Or intellect.  Maybe it was ability to blog about a local hockey team.

The first people I saw, appropriately, were Gail and the kids.  Needless to say, Gail was thrilled for my opportunity and encouraged me to take it.  Sean and Jake concurred while Kayla innocently asked me if I would be driving or flying there.

Still, I had a couple of major considerations, namely my speaking engagement for the Archdiocese of Regina (scheduled for Saturday and Sunday) and how to get from Regina to Ottawa in time for Sunday morning.  I looked up some flight options and knew it was going to be tricky.

I called Michelle Braden, youth ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Regina, as she was the one who invited me to come keynote her youth rally.

“Michelle…I have some good news and some bad news.”

I proceeded to explain that in my years of speaking I have never asked to leave a speaking engagement early, let alone cancel altogether.  I told her that I was firmly resolved to honour my entire speaking commitment.

To which she replied:  “Clay, go ahead.  It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.  We’ll figure something out.”

I was inspired by Michelle’s faith and trust that things would work out and I was most appreciative of her understanding – I knew that this change would send her and her planning team into controlled chaos less than 72 hours before the event.

Next, I had to figure out how to get to Ottawa by 8am Sunday as the flights into Ottawa from Regina would be too late.  I focused on flying into Toronto late Saturday evening and then finding a way to Ottawa for the morning.  There weren’t any trains or busses that ran overnight so I posted a desperate plea on Facebook and Twitter asking for a kind soul to volunteer to drive me five hours through the night from Toronto to Ottawa.  To my amazement, three different people (thank you Kristin, Mary Helen, and Ted) offered to help me and started to rearrange their schedules for me.  I was humbled by their generosity.

Then one of the PREP teachers (remember…I was still at the church) suggested that I fly into Montreal instead as it was only a couple of hours away from Ottawa (as opposed to the five from Toronto).  Given that Ted lived in Ottawa, this was a much better solution.  Faster than you can say “Patrick Roy is awesome…and so is Ted for driving me”, I had booked my flight from Regina to Montreal.

The next 48 hours were an absolute whirlwind as I finished my planning for my Regina talks while preparing for Rome.  I was in constant contact with my new friend Ian.  The fact that I was leaving from Vancouver on Friday afternoon as opposed to Saturday afternoon or evening complicated things as I needed the packing list urgently.  To his credit, Ian came through just in time.

Thus, Friday afternoon I was off to Regina (via Calgary) and I was at the rally venue before 8am on Saturday.  I had a wonderful day catching up with some older friends and making a lot of new ones, both young and old.

As for my two talks, they both went really well – at least from my perspective haha.  The young people were extremely attentive, polite, and engaged.  They seemed to really like the chocolate milk demonstration and the videos of my kids – the Disneyland Surprise one in particular.  They seemed to take a liking to smart Sean, cute Kayla, and comedian Jacob.  As part of my last talk, I shared with the participants my story of being invited to go to Rome and my excitement to go (despite having to leave early).  After a few more hours of visiting and meeting people, I was off to the airport just 18 hours after arriving.  Who do I think I am, anyway:  Matt Maher? :p

I flew from Regina to Toronto and then from Toronto to Montreal, arriving just before 1:30am.  After a slight miscommunication, Ted and I were able to find each other and start the long journey to Ottawa.  We left no topic untouched as we gabbed about religion, politics, sports, and family with a stop to McDonald’s to boot!  We arrive at Ted’s house at 4:45am and pledged to be ready to leave the house at 7am.  As I type this, I’m too excited to sleep.  So I’m going to finish this blog, shower, re-pack, and be on my way.

So many things had to fall into place over the past 48 hours and God certainly has had His hand over everything.  Among them:

•         The way that Michelle and her team in Regina were so accommodating and understanding.

•         How Ted unselfishly drove from Ottawa to Montreal (albeit after a youth ministry event) to pick me up, only to turn around and drive me back to his place in Ottawa for a couple of hours.

•         The fact that Gail and I didn’t have any formal spring break plans (though it was our intention to go away for a few days).  For whatever reason, we decided to stay in town this year; thus I didn’t have to cancel any vacation plans.

I was shocked, humbled, and grateful to be nominated to go (though I’m trying to find out who nominated me).  I have a feeling I know who it is.

I truly feel that this was a “team effort” from the standpoint that I was given this opportunity because of the good things we’re doing collectively in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.  So for everyone that I serve with and for everyone who has supported me in all facets, I humbly thank you.

Know (as sappy as it may sound) that I’m taking all of you with me!  It’s indeed an extreme honour to represent myself, the Archdiocese of Vancouver, and Canada on such an extraordinary trip.  I hope to blog a couple of times from Rome to share some of my experiences.

Pray for me as I will pray for you.  And please let me know if you have any specific prayer intentions.

Thank you for all of your love, support, and prayers.  I will return to Vancouver on Thursday evening undoubtedly a changed man.

8 thoughts on “The Invitation of a Lifetime”

  1. I’m so happy to read about this incredible blessing! I had a similar crazy journey getting here to Rome. I look forward to bumping into you tomorrow =)

  2. What a blessing for you, for Canada, & for the Catholic Church of Canada…I know you will represent us well. May God continue to lovingly guide you Clay. Pax, K

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