by Father Mark Goldasich
“These are tough questions!”
These words were recently uttered by Pope Francis. Surprisingly, the questions didn’t come from bishops or cardinals or even from inquiring journalists. Instead, the pope was reacting to some 259 letters from 26 countries and six continents written in 14 languages by children. Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, who delivered the questions to Pope Francis, described them as “sharp, clear, even brusque. . . . These questions are also very practical.”
Happily, 30 of these questions — in their original languages along with the children’s artwork — are found in a delightful book recently published by Loyola Press. “Dear Pope Francis” gives another intriguing glimpse into the mind and heart of the pope as he responds to kids, ages 6 to 13, from Canada, China, Syria, Singapore, Russia, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, to name a few. On the left-hand side of this 71-page book is the question (with an English translation and a picture of the child) and on the right side, the pope’s answer.
Here are just a few of the questions and answers:
João, 10, from Portugal, asks: “What do you feel when you look at the children around you?” Pope Francis replies: “Dear João, I’m happy when I see children. I always feel great tenderness and affection for them. . . . Yes, I feel great hope because every child is our hope for the future of humanity.”
Luca, 7, from Australia, writes: “My mum is in heaven. Will she grow angel wings?” The pope responds: “Dear Luca, No, no, no! Your mom is in heaven — beautiful, splendid, and full of light. She hasn’t grown wings. She is still your mom, the person you know, but she is more radiant than ever. And she watches you and smiles at you as her son. Your mom is happy whenever she sees you behaving well. And if you don’t behave, she still loves you and asks Jesus to help you become a better person.”
Michael, 9, from Nigeria, writes: “How can you settle conflicts in the world?” Pope Francis responds: “Dear Michael, We have to help people of goodwill speak about war as something bad. The reason people wage war is to get more power and more money. . . . But there is no magic wand. We have to convince everyone that the best way to win a war is not to wage one. I know that’s not easy. But I’m going to try. And I ask you to try, too.”
William, 7, from the United States, asks: “If you could do one miracle, what would it be?” The pope answers: “Dear William, I would heal children. I’ve never been able to understand why children suffer. . . . Jesus wept, and by weeping, he understood our tragedies. I try to understand, too. . . . I’m not afraid to cry. You shouldn’t be either.”
Prajla, 6, of Albania writes: “When you were a child, did you like dancing?” Pope Francis says: “Very much, dear Prajla! Really a lot! I enjoyed being with other children, playing Ring around the Rosie, but also dancing our traditional dances from Argentina. . . . Then, as a young man, I liked to dance the tango. I really like the tango. You know, dancing expresses joy and happiness. When you are sad, you can’t dance. Usually young people have one great resource: being happy. And for this reason, when you are young, you dance and express the joy in your heart. . . . People who can’t express joy are always serious. Dance now, children, so you won’t be too serious when you grow up!”
Although it won’t take much time to read this book, the pictures of these children, their sincere questions and the pope’s replies will linger with you. Incidentally, part of the book’s $18.95 price will be donated to the needs of displaced children around the world through the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Father Antonio beautifully sums things up in the last paragraph of the book: “I realize that the language of Pope Francis is simple and that he lives in simple words. Because God is simple. The tenderness of God is revealed in his simplicity. One must not complicate God, especially if this complication distances God from people. God is with us, and to be really with us, he has to be simple. The presence of a person is simple. Even the physical presence of Pope Francis has the flavor of simplicity. And this flavor is also in the most profound things he says, as in these responses to the children. I am sure of this: Pope Francis’ responses to these questions will do good for all, and especially for those who refuse to become simple like children.”
So, what are you waiting for? Grab two copies of this book: one for a kid you know (age 6 and up) . . . and one for yourself!