Renowned evangelist Nick Vujicic spoke at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente Jan. 22, addressing approximately 600 students between kindergarten and 5th grade who were bussed in from area Catholic schools for a morning program, and an estimated 2,000 6th to 12th graders on hand for an afternoon segment. Both presentations were live-streamed to Catholic schools across the archdiocese via the Department of Catholic Schools’ website.

Born without arms or legs — a rare congenital condition called phocomelia — 33-year-old Vujicic regularly traverses the globe sharing his one-of-a-kind life story, coupled with a powerful message of hope and faith, to millions of people of all backgrounds. His challenge to young people in particular? To realize that their true value is far beyond skin deep — and to recognize that same inherent worth in others.

“I want [you all] to know that you’re all beautiful just the way that you are,” said Vujicic as he kicked off his morning address to the K-5 students. “We all have our ups and downs in life, but I want you to know that God loves you no matter what!”

Brimming with heartwarming stories and amusing anecdotes, Vujicic recounted what it was like growing up in Australia feeling “different” from his fellow classmates and having to endure extreme bullying in school. As he grew and matured spiritually, he learned to ignore the taunts, and eventually came to accept and understand that “it’s not about how you look, it’s who you are.”

“Sometimes people knock you down, but … Jesus [is with you], so you’re never alone,” he told the crowd. Although Jesus is always near, we may not always recognize his presence, Vujicic continued. As such, we may be more apt to give in to the low self-esteem and negative self-talk that often result from bullying.

“We hear the little voices in our head saying, ‘You’re not special … God has forgotten you … You can’t do what everyone else does … You’re a nobody … You have no friends … You can’t do anything — you can’t even brush your teeth Nick … Maybe you should just give up,’” said Vujicic.

Such negativity can compel us to latch on to falsehoods and give in to fear, rather than embrace that we are loved by God, he said. Vujicic described fear as an acronym: “False Evidence Appearing Real” — and promptly scooted to the edge of the table where he was speaking to illustrate “fear.”

“Do you see how close I am to the edge? Am I close enough to the edge now?” he asked, as he scooted closer still, eliciting worried gasps from the audience.

“Don’t worry I’m not going to fall off, [but] if I did I would just break my arm or something,” joked Vujicic, resulting in echoing laughter throughout the gymnasium.

“But if you do fall down, what do you do? You get back up. So when we go through different difficulties and storms in life … remember that they will pass, and when you fall down, you have to get back up and keep on trusting in God, that he loves you and you’re valuable and he has an awesome plan for you.”

For Gabriela Covarrubias, a fourth-grade teacher at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School in Montebello, the message that resonated most with her following Vujicic’s talk was that we should always be thankful for the things we have, and “not be angry at God” for the things that are lacking in our lives.

“In life we do [sometimes] wish we had something we don’t have and Nick’s [presentation] reminded me that God only gives us what we can handle,” she told The Tidings.

Covarrubias’ student Jacob (last name withheld for privacy) noted that Vujicic taught him that “it doesn’t matter how I look; I am special the way I am.”

“God has a plan for each one of us,” he said. “We can all do special things one day.”