COLOGNE, Germany — In a tradition started by Pope John Paul II, 12 youths were blessed to share lunch with Pope Benedict XVI Aug. 19 at Cologne's seminary as part of World Youth Day. It was a meal the youth won't soon forget.

The young were served vegetable omelets, salad, white wine and apple strudel.

When trout was brought out for Pope Benedict, he declined it.

“He didn't want it because eating it meant he couldn't speak as much,” said Matthias Kopp, spokesperson for World Youth Day.

His guests explained that the Pope felt it was too complicated to eat, and he wanted to be able to concentrate on his conversation with the pilgrims.

One of the young people said that the Holy Father asked if he could have what the young pilgrims were having.

“When he said that he wanted to have what the young people were eating, that helped us to see that he is a human being,” said Anna Franziska Herbst from Germany.

The Holy Father traded questions with them. Since he knew the most languages, he served as the interpreter for the dozen guests, speaking German, English and French.

“We didn't speak of World Youth Day,” said Jason Mackiewicz of New Zealand. “He asked about us, our backgrounds.”

“He was personally interested in me, our families, and with who we are,” said Veronique Rondeau of Canada. “He was very accessible. I felt I could ask any question.”

Lauriane-Salome Moufouma-Okia from the Congo was impressed by the Pope's depth of knowledge about her country.

“He asked about the specific region where I was from,” said Moufouma-Okia. “I was nervous meeting him, but as soon as he said hello, I had confidence in him.”

Lubica Jovanovic, 19, from Sydney, Australia, described what it was like when Pope Benedict walked into the room.

“He was so beautiful,” Jovanovic said. “When he walked into the room, I felt Christ. It was like heaven touching earth. I was crying a little and wanted to hug him, but didn't.”

Palestinian Christian Johny Bassous asked the Pope what message he would want to give to Christian Palestinians.

“He encouraged us in our faith to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Bassous. “He asked us to carry a message of peace and reconciliation because we are one creation of God.”

The young people brought various gifts for the Pope, and received a gift from him as well.

Moufouma-Okia brought him a medal in the shape of Africa.

“He was very happy about it,” said Moufouma-Okia. “He liked that it had the African colors of green, red and yellow on it.”

Yunju Rosalee from Taiwan brought him a CD of music that her music group made for the Holy Father.

In return, the Pope gave each of the young people a box with a medal and a picture.

Klaus Langenstück of Germany compared the meal to one in Scripture.

“It was 12 of us together with the Pope,” said Langenstück. “We shared a meal and a moment in our lives. It was like the exchange Jesus had with his friends.”

“It was a moving event,” said Nicolas Jose Frias Ossandon, of Chile. “The Pope took great interest in us personally. It is a gift to have this Pope.”

Tim Drake filed this story from World Youth Day in Cologne.