As we were finishing up faith formation class the other day, I showed my class a new book: Dear Pope Francis. It is a hardcover, colorful book of letters and drawings from children around the world to Pope Francis. The best part of the book is that Pope Francis answered each of the letters. His answers are not one- or two-line answers, but thoughtful, multi-paragraph answers that an elementary-age student can understand. I fell in love with this book as soon I opened it. It is a visually stunning book and the questions and answers were presented in a loving way.
I was terribly excited to show this book to the class, but also a bit worried that they wouldn’t love it as much as I did. I shouldn’t have worried; they fell in love with it as fast as I did.
As I opened the book, my third-grade class crowded all around me, wanting to look at each page. I selected a letter written by a child from Poland, and after reading the question aloud, I showed the child’s drawing. Then we read the answer by Pope Francis. In that moment, the kids were less excited about the Pope’s answer than they were about the fact that the letter was from a child their age living in Poland. They were interested to see her handwriting, trying to read the Polish words written in cursive. As we talked about her drawing, one of the boys started laughing. He said it was because Pope Francis wrote in his answer that he wanted to be a butcher when he grew up; now he’s the Pope.
My classroom is full of children from different backgrounds and cultures. Most of the students wanted to know if there was a letter from the country of their heritage. Was their native language in a letter? Could they read it to their classmates? Other students flipped through the pages to see what each child drew. What did they ask the Pope? How old are they? All of the students were fascinated that kids their own age were able to write letters to the Pope and he answered them. “How very cool,” they said.
Dear Pope Francis is great for teachers and parents. The questions and drawings are captivating, and the content of the questions is rich enough to spark conversations that will add to any faith formation lesson. The variety of questions—from why Pope Francis likes soccer to why Jesus didn’t defeat the devil—will engage readers, no matter what their age.
The publisher of the book (and this blog), Loyola Press, offers printable blackline masters with classroom activities to use the book with different age groups. The children were so enamored with the book itself, wanting to read and look at the pages, that we ran out of time for the lesson part. I’ll bring the catechist pages and the book to another session to use in a lesson. I know the children will enjoy the opportunity to see and talk about this book again.