Today is our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s last day in office. Like so many of us, my little family has been praying over the future of our Church. We have even “adopted” a cardinal for whom we are praying. We’ve been digging up old pictures of our trip to Rome, explaining the hierarchy of our Church to our kids and delving into its beautiful universality.
And answering questions about the Pope’s (possibly) secret holy superpowers.
Interesting and hilarious conversations have come up. Such as, “does the Pope live in a tower high in the sky so he can be close to God?” “Which special powers does the Pope have? Like, can he fly out of his window from place to place?” “Is the Pope-mobile for real???” Sigh. When we were explaining the Church’s age old hierarchy, our eldest asked if there were any knights and pawns at the Vatican. He wasn’t joking, he is just really into chess.
Obviously, we discovered fairly quickly that we have not adequately discussed this aspect of our Catholic heritage with our young children. While we weren’t expecting to have to let go of our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI so soon, his resignation does present a unique opportunity to share this historical moment with our children, and that part is exciting.
It would be impossible for me to do justice to 2,000 years of history. But if you are looking for a basic way to explain things, this may help!
5 Things to Teach Children about the Papacy
1) The Pope is the earthly father of the Catholic Church worldwide. The name “Pope” comes from Latin “Papa” and Greek “Papas” for Daddy. His position is designed to last for the rest of his life on earth. This tradition began with St. Peter when Jesus said to him “You are the Rock on which I build my Church.” The Pope’s job is to guide the Church in matters of faith and morality in an ever changing world.
2) The Pope lives in Vatican City, which is its own country. Even though it is inside of Rome, it is not part of Rome. (Cool fact: St. Peter’s square is in the shape of a key, signifying the “keys” given to St. Peter to the Kingdom of heaven).
3) He is chosen from the College of Cardinals who form a Papal Conclave 15-20 days after a Pope dies or resigns. Here the Cardinals pray for many days together. They require a 2/3 majority in order to elect the next Pope. They meet in the Sistine Chapel.
4) If a candidate does not receive enough votes, the Cardinals apply a chemical to their voting ballots and send black smoke out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. If a candidate succeeds in obtaining enough votes, they apply a chemical to their ballots to send white smoke out of the chimney, signifying that a new Pope has been chosen. Bells ring, too!
5) The winning candidate will be asked if he will accept his role as the Supreme Pontiff, and when he accepts, he chooses a new name for himself, and is lead into a room where he changes into his Papal garb for the very first time. It is then when the senior Cardinal deacon announces from St. Peter’s square the following speech:
And for those of us with rusty Latin:
And the whole world cheers and celebrates, “Habemus Papam,” we have a Pope!!!!
As we draw near the dawn of a new horizon for our Church, let us cherish all that Pope Benedict XVI has taught us, and as we continue to teach our children let us remember this:
“Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”
Pope Benedict XVI, pray for us!
Me at St. Peter’s basilica in 2005. I told you I was digging up old photos.