April 15, 2005

Be Our Guest

How to talk to children about the death of Pope John Paul II

By Daniel Sarell

In this time of mourning for the Church, parents have a tremendous opportunity to teach children the hopeful lessons of Pope John Paul II about faith, courage, suffering and death that can lead children to understand that their heroes in life can be elderly people of great holiness, not just youthful figures of wealth and ­athleticism.

It is an opportunity to speak to children in the home when we are all glued to our televisions, soaking in a moment of history. Children want to share these moments with us, and deserve to remember John Paul II as a figure who continually blesses us.

When children ask questions about these events at various times, they deserve our full attention, even if we need to lower the volume of the continuous coverage, so they can understand that you recognize the importance of their questions.

John Paul II was a man chosen by God, through the Church, to be the pastor of the Church around the world. If the people of the world are a whole pie cut into six pieces, Catholics make up one piece (1 billion), and one-third of one piece would total all the people in the United States (about 300 million).

You might also relate John Paul II’s 26 years as pope to your own age. How old were you then, and what do you remember about it?

John Paul II was the first pope from Poland, a country that suffered greatly under Nazi Germany and communist rule. He bravely resisted the evils that ruled his country and strengthened the Polish people’s faith when it was under attack. Show them Poland and Rome on a map.

As pope, he guided the Church throughout a difficult time of change when many people no longer followed Jesus.

Always brave and forgiving, he went to the prison of the man who tried to kill him and forgave him. He urged the communist leader of Poland to allow Christians to worship without fear. Because of his leadership and with the help of God, the people of Poland and other countries peacefully defeated the evil of communism, which denied faith in God.

John Paul II loved children, and he was often seen blessing children, kissing their cheeks and patting their heads like a grandfather.

Even if we did not know him personally, he was a friend to all Christians and many other people who also love God and peace.

Parents may want to relate the death of the pope to a death in your family. John Paul II was like a family member for all Catholics. It is OK to show your sadness to your children and not shelter them from your emotions.

We just celebrated Good Friday and Easter. You might want to reaffirm that we celebrate the death and rising of Jesus because we believe that he died and rose to promise us eternal life, which we believe John Paul is living now and watching over us in heaven, along with the saints, like Mary, SS. Peter and Paul, and other saints that your children know and close relatives who have died.

We can ask John Paul to pray for us. Sometimes, his prayers will heal sick people, help us to tell the truth, get along with others and do the right thing when we are tempted to misbehave.

John Paul II has died, and he is no longer suffering. For many years, he has been in poor health, and he has taught us how to live our lives to the fullest, even when it is difficult. He loved to ski and hike, played goalie on his soccer team, wrote poetry and acted in plays.

He always told the truth, even when people did not want to hear it. He chose many leaders of the Church, and one of them will become the new pope.

It is important to assure children that the Church will continue to love and guide us in our faith. The Church is sad right now, but we know that God will help the Church choose a holy man as our new pope, and we are joyful and thankful in our sadness that God gave us the gift of John Paul II to be our Holy Father.

(Daniel Sarell is the archdiocesan director of family ministries.)

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