Pope Francis Talks to Homeless L.A. Teen About Understanding Others' Hardships

Marcus Alston, 19, was one of the few speakers at the virtual papal audience.

ByABC News
September 4, 2015, 1:51 PM

— -- In the shadow of Hollywood, another, harsher version of Los Angeles exists -- a city containing the largest unsheltered homeless population in the country, including up to 10,000 homeless youths.

Marcus Alston, one of those many young people, had the chance to ask Pope Francis a question Monday morning when the Holy Father addressed a crowd of more than 200 homeless men and women in downtown Los Angeles during a virtual audience hosted with ABC News.

“Hi, Holy Father,” Alston, 19, began, “It's a great honor to meet you and to be able to speak with you-- and to represent all the people-- the young people here-- who are without a home here in the United States. So my question for you-- 'cause I know why you're so important to me-- but why is this trip to America so important to you?"

"For me it's very important to meet with you all, with the citizens of the United States, who have your history, your culture, your virtues, your joys, your sadnesses, your problems like everyone else," Pope Francis said. "I'm at the service of all churches and all men and women of good will."

"There's something very important for me, which is closeness," the pontiff continued. "For me it's difficult not to be close to people. When I approach people, as I'm going to do with you, it's easier for me to understand them and help them along life's path. That's why this trip is so important, for me to draw close to your path and your history."

The ABC News team met with Marcus the previous day where he told us his story. Living in foster care on and off until the age of 17, he told us he lived on the streets after a failed stint living with his biological mother left him homeless. He told us his first night in L.A. he didn’t know where to go so he scaled a fence and slept outside a church.

Marcus eventually found Covenant House of California, a youth homeless shelter, where he lived for 13 months. Before moving out this week, he gave us a tour of the bedroom he’d been sleeping in, showing us his skateboards and the jacket he says is his most prized possession.

“This is my prized blazer," he said. "It builds my self-esteem, and also people, I’ve noticed people take people in suits more serious than they do somebody with a hoodie and sweats.”

An aspiring singer and songwriter, he played a song he’d written himself in the Covenant House’s music room.

The next morning, he would wear his prized jacket to meet the Pope, an experience Marcus found completely humbling and surreal.

“This is my favorite and most honorable day, I get to meet the pope,” he said after the event. “I just I don’t know, maybe it’s just like the lottery… I really do feel special, and feel like I was made for something bigger and this will be the start hopefully.