DEAR POPE FRANCIS: The Pope Answers Questions from Children Around the World by Pope Francis.
Each spread is set up the same way: child's question and original letter (with art) on the left, Pope Francis's reply on the right.
Before I go on, it's important that you know I'm not Catholic. I'm drawn to this book not for any religious reasons, but for spiritual ones. The spiritual life is full of questions. And Pope Francis is both a religious and a spiritual leader.
There's much to love here: the children are from all over the globe. Their letters and art are presented as they were written (in their own languages) and drawn -- and I love how so often Pope Francis refers to the art in his letters. It seemed to me that he actively searched the art for clues about the child and to further refine the question being asked so that his answer could possibly address something deeper than what was written in the words.
And the questions are hard ones! About suffering and hell and sin and miracles. I found myself very nurtured by his responses to the children's often tough questions.
Here are some of my favorite responses:
"I've experienced many miracles. No, they're not the spectacular kind. I have never seen the dead come back to life. But I have seen many daily miracles in my life. Many."
On settling conflict in the world:
"...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."
"God created us to be free. Freedom is the greatest gift he has given us."
On finding God:
"If you love the people in your family, you will find God, and everything will be harmonious."
On making hard choices:
"Letting go of people is really very difficult for me. I love to trust people. And that's true for those I work with and everyone I'm responsible for. So I feel really bad if I have to send someone away. But at times I have to do it, you know, for the good of the person. Still, it's difficult for me to accept."
"Suffering is to be lived with hope. We are not prisoners of suffering. It is just as you have expressed in your drawing: with the sun, the flowers, the trees, and your smile as you fly in the air playing ball. If we forgive one another, we will go to our future home, which will be very beautiful because it will be transfigured - completely transformed -by the presence of God.
On how God hears us:
"Yes, he listens to us, but not with ears. God can hear us even if words don't come out of our mouths. God listens to the heart."
On God's love:
"We are all chosen by the love of Jesus. But each of us is chosen in a personal way - we are not all chosen in a single common way. Jesus' love makes us feel chosen. But if you feel shut out of this love, then you have to face up to it and ask yourself why you feel that way. Jesus never excludes anyone from his heart."
On going to hell:
"Once, a woman went to a holy priest, whose name was John Maria Vianney. He was the pastor of the parish in Ars, in France. The woman began to cry, because her husband had committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. She was desperate because she thought that her husband had certainly ended up in hell. But Father John Maria, who was a saint, said to her, "Look between the bridge and the river, there is the mercy of God."
Look between the bridge and the river.