(NEW YORK) — Monday turned out to be extra special for Chicago, Illinois, student Valerie Hererra, who had the opportunity to sing before Pope Francis.
Hererra, 17, a senior at Cristo Bey Jesuit High School, joined Americans chosen from all over the U.S. in a virtual audience with the pope via satellite. The event was moderated from inside the Vatican by ABC News’ anchor David Muir.
Pope Francis spoke on Monday with three groups, including students from Cristo Rey on the southwest side of Chicago.
When it was her time to speak, Hererra told the pontiff that she’d struggled with vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes white spots on the face and body, since she was 4 and that she’d endured bullying for years.
The eldest of four children born to parents from Mexico, Hererra said she was very active in her church and joined her church choir. Thanks to singing and the support of her family, she told Pope Francis, through tears, that she’d finally learned to be more comfortable with herself.
Then she got a surprise request from the pontiff.
“May I ask for you to sing a song for me?” he said. “Be courageous.”
After a pause and encouragement from the audience, Hererra performed, singing “Junto a Ti Maria (Next to You, Maria).”
Afterward, Pope Francis thanked her.
Hererra will be the first member of her family to attend college. She plans to become a pharmacist.
The virtual audience event will air in a one-hour special edition of ABC News’ 20/20 on Friday, Sept. 4 at 10 p.m. ET. In addition, the event will be posted in its entirety in both English and Spanish on ABCNews.com.
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