In his first children's book Pope Francis touches on a variety of both lighthearted and sensitive topics from war and solving the world’s conflicts, to Sunday school, miracles and his preference for tango.
When asked by 6-year-old Prajla from Albania if he liked to dance as a child, the Pope said he liked it “a lot! I liked to be together with other children, playing...dancing our typical dances from Argentina. I had a lot of fun.”
He told Prajla that as a teenager he liked to dance tango, and that for him, to dance “is to experience joy and happiness.”
“When someone is sad they can't dance. Generally kids have a big asset: being happy. And because of this when they are young they dance and express the joy in their heart,” he said, noting that “the people who can't experience joy in their heart are always serious.”
Because of this, the Pope told children to dance, “so that you aren't too serious when you are older!”
This is just one of the answers Pope Francis gave to the 30 children around the world who wrote to him with questions and drawings.
On March 1 Jesuit-run Loyola Press will release the book “Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World,” alongside Jesuit publishing houses in 11 other countries.
Eight children whose letters appear in the book, plus a few siblings, met with Pope Francis in a private audience at the Vatican Feb. 22 to present him with the Italian translation of the book, as well as all 259 letters collected for the project.
The Italian translation, “L'Amore Prima del Mondo,” is already available in bookstores.
A collection of 30 letters and drawings from children around the world aged 6-13, the book contains both questions from the youth, as well as Pope Francis' answers.
Pope Francis gave the project the official thumbs-up last May, when executives from Loyola Press traveled to Rome to pop the question on whether he would ever consider writing a children’s book.
Due to the Pope’s time constraints, he couldn't respond to all 259 letters, but was advised on which ones to select with the help of a special group of parents, grandparents, teachers, Jesuits, writers and children.
Letters included in the book come from across the globe, including countries such as Albania, Russia, China, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines and a school for displaced children in Syria.
In the book Pope Francis answers questions simple, fun questions from the youth, as well as heart-wrenching questions from children in warring countries.
When asked by Mohamed, 10, from Syria if the world will ever be beautiful again like it was before, the Pope responded by pointing out how after he died and ascended into heaven, Jesus promised that he would return, and that when he does, “everything will be new: a new heaven, a new earth.”
Because of this, “the world now will not be like it was in the past,” Francis said. He lamented that there are “evil people” who produce and sell arms in order to make war, people who hate, and people who are so attached to money that they will “even sell other people” to get more.
Although “this is terrible,” the Pope stressed that “this suffering is destined to end, you know? It’s not forever. Suffering is lived with hope, despite everything.”
Similarly, when asked by Michael, 9, from Nigeria asked how to end the world’s conflicts, Francis said that war “is only the fruit of egoism and greed.”
While he acknowledged that he can’t solve all the world’s problems, Pope Francis told the youth that “you and I can try to make this land a better world.”
“You know conflict, I understand. But there is not a magic wand. Everyone must be convinced that the best way of winning a war is not to do it. It’s not easy. But I will try. You try too.”
On a more lighthearted note, the Pope answered questions surrounding his “tall hat” (his miter), miracles, Sunday school, how Jesus walked on water and what he would like to do to make the world a better place.
Ana Maria, 10, from Brazil asked the Pope why children needed to go to catechism classes. In response, Francis said simply: “Go to catechism to know Jesus better!”
“If you have a friend you like to be with them in order to know them better. You like to be with a friend to play together, to get to know their family, their life, where they were born, where they live.”
Catechism, he said, “helps you in this, to know your friend Jesus better and to know his big family which is the Church.”
When William, 7, from the U.S. asked him what miracle he would perform if he could, Pope Francis said he would “heal children,” and that he still hasn’t been able to understand why children suffer.
“I pray about this question: why do children suffer? It’s my heart that asks me the question,” he said, noting how Jesus himself cried, “and in crying he understood our dramas.”
“If I could do a miracle, I would heal all children,” he added, and told William that “I’m not afraid to cry. You shouldn’t be either.”
On a fun note, when Natasha, 8, from Kenya asked him how Jesus walked on water, the Pope jested, saying that Jesus “didn’t fly or do somersaults swimming,” but walked normally like he was on the ground.
Jesus walked “one foot after the other, also seeing the fish under his feet partying and swimming fast,” the Pope explained, adding that since Jesus is God, “he can do everything. He can also walk calmly on water. God doesn’t sink, you know?”