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5/30/2009 6:20 PM
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Translated from

May 30, 2009

At noon today, the Holy Father held a special audience for 7,000 children belonging to the Pontificia Opera per L'Infanzia Missionaria (POIM, Pontifical Work for Childhood Mission) at the Aula Paolo VI.

After a greeting from Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Holy Father responded to three questions from the children.

Here is a translation of the Q&A:

My name is Anna Filippone, I am 12 and a ministrant from Calabria, diocese of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi. Papa Benedetto, my friend Giovanni has an Italian grandfather and an Ecuadorian grandmother and is very happy. Do you think that the different cultures can live together one day without fighting in the name of Jesus?

I think you want to know what we ourselves, as children, did in order to live together, to help each other. I must say that I lived the years of my elementary schooling in a small town of 400 residents, quite far from the great centers.

Therefore we were a bit naive. And in this town, there were, on the one hand, very rich farmers and some who were not as rich but well-off, and on the other hand, poor employees and artisans.

Our family arrived here from another town, so we were somewhat strangers to them, and even their dialect was different. In our school, then, many different social aspects were reflected.

A class picture with the 10-yer-old Joseph Ratzinger.

Nonetheless, there was a beautiful communion among us. The other children taught me their dialect which I did not know then. We worked together well, and I must say, of course, sometimes, we quarrelled, but afterwards, we made up and forgot what had happened.

I think this is important. Sometimes in human life, it seems inevitable to quarrel, But what remains important is to know how to reconcile with each other, to forgive, to start over and not to leave any bitterness in one's heart.

I recall thankfully how we all worked together - we helped each other and stayed together along the way. We were all Catholics, and this, naturally, was a great help. So we learned together from the Bible, starting with the creation up to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and the beginnings of the Church.

We learned catechism together, we learned to pray together, we prepared together for our first confession and our first Communion - that was a splendid day! We understood that Jesus himself comes to us, that he is not a distant God: he enters my own life, into my own soul.

And if the same Jesus comes into each of us, we are brothers, sisters, friends - and we should therefore behave as such.

The future Pope at his First Communion.
[My, what elfin ears! This is the first time I've tried to crop and enlarge this image!]

For us that preparation - for the first confession as a purification of our conscience, of our life, and then for first Communion as a concrete encounter with Jesus who comes to me, who comes to us all - was a factor that contributed to form our community.

It helped us to walk together, to learn together and to reconcile with each other when necessary. And we worked together, for instance, to put on small presentations: it is important to be able to work together and look after each other.

In those days, there were no altar girls yet, even if the girls read better than we did. So they read the lectures in the liturgy while we became altar boys.

In those days, there was quite a lot of Latin texts to learn, so each of us had quite a bit to do. But as I said, we were not saints - we had our share of quarreling - but nonetheless, it was a beautiful communion with each other, in which the differences between rich and poor, intelligent and less intelligent, counted for nothing.

It was a communion with Jesus along the path of a common faith and common responsibility, whether at play or doing our common work in school.

We found the capacity to live together and be friends, and although by 1937, more than 70 years ago, I no longer lived there, we have remained friends.

What we learned was to accept each other, bear each other's burdens. I think this is important: despite our weaknesses, to accept each other, and with Jesus Christ, in the Church, we can find together the path of peace and we learn to live as good persons.

My name is Letizia and I wanted to ask you: Dear Pope Benedict XVI, what did the saying, "Children help each other' mean for you as a child? And did you ever think of becoming Pope?

To tell you the truth, I would never have thought of 0becoming Pope because, as I said earlier, I was a rather naive boy in a small town, in a forgotten province. We were happy to be there and we did not think of other things.

Of course, we knew, venerated and loved the Pope - it was Pius XI then - but for us, he was at an unreachable height, almost in another world - a father to us, but nonetheless, someone much more superior to us.

And I must say that even today, I find it difficult to understand how the Lord could have thought of me and destine me for this ministry. But I accept it from his hands, even if it is a surprising thing that seems very much beyond my powers. But the Lord helps me.

Dear Papa Benedetto, I am Alessandro. I wanted to ask you - you are the first missionary. How can we children help you to announce the Gospel?

I would say this: in the first place, to be part of the Pontifical Children's Missionary Work. Thus you are part of a great family which is promoting the Gospel around the world. Thus you belong to a large network, in which we can see how different peoples are reflected in this great family.

You are in this great family - where everyone does his own part, and together, you are missionaries, you are bearers of the Church's missionary work.

And you have a beautiful program as your spokesman described it: to listen, to pray, to know, to share, and to bond together. These are the essential elements for being a missionary, to promote the growth of the Church and the presence of the Gospel in the world.

I would like to emphasize some of these points: First of all, prayer.

Prayer is a reality: God listens to us, and when we pray, God enters our life, he becomes present among us, present and 'at work'.

Praying is something very important that can change the world because it makes the power of God present. And it is important that we help each other when praying: we pray together in the liturgy, we pray together in the family.

And I would say it is important to start the day with a little prayer and finish the day with another little prayer - and remember your parents in prayer.

Pray before lunch, pray before supper, and in the communal celebration of Sunday Mass. A Sunday without goint o Mass - the great communal prayer of the Church - is not a true Sunday: it lacks the very heart of Sunday and thus, the light for the whole week.

And you can help others - particularly those who perhaps do not pray at home, or do not know how to pray - teach others to pray: Pray with them and thus, introduce others to communion with God.

Then, listen. And that means to truly learn what Jesus is telling us. And to get to know Sacred Scripture, the Bible. In the story of Jesus, as the cardinal said, we get to know the face of God, we learn how God is. It is important to know Jesus deeply, personally, so that he enters into our life, he enters the world.

Also, sharing. Not to want things for oneself alone but for everyone. Share with others. If we see someone who perhaps is in need, less blessed with gifts, we should help and thus make God's love present, even without words, in our own small world which is part of the great world.

So we become a family together, where we respect each other, support others in their otherness, accept even those whom we dislike, not allow anyone to be left aside but help them to become part of the community.

All this simply means to live in the great family of the Church, this great missionary family. To live together the essential points - like sharing, knowing Jesus, prayer, listening to each other, and brotherliness - is missionary work because it helps to make the Gospel become real in our world.

Too bad the Vatican press bulletin does not explain what POIM is all about. The audience with the Pope today was the centerpiece of a full day's program billed as 'CHILDREN MISSIONARIES LIKE PAUL' for 7000 childen enrolled in POIM from all over Italy and Europe, which culminates in an afternoon pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, with Mass to be celebrated by Cardinal Dias.

POIM, set up independently in June 1843 to promote missionary consciousness among children, is under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and is now found in 150 countries around the world. In Italy, it is found in every diocese, and counts today with some 6,000 members nationwide among children aged 8 to 14.

The Italian POIM has a very active site
and carries links to major POIM sites around the world on

It currently has about 20 million children participating or benefiting from its worldwide activities of Christian formation.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/31/2009 5:54 AM]
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