00 6/10/2010 4:20 PM

Many thanks to Ann for sharing this with us, from the diocesan newspaper of Rockville Centre, New York.


When Ann Kissane Engelhart came across the online transcript of Pope Benedict speaking to children about making their first Communion, she knew, as a Catholic and an artist, that she wanted to share it by turning it into a children’s book.

“It’s a very charming dialogue,” Engelhart noted of the October 2005 meeting between the pope and some children of Rome who had recently received their first Communion.

“The idea of this scholar theologian speaking to eight-year-olds really struck me. They asked him questions about the Eucharist and he answered them off the cuff. He really spoke to them on their level, answering challenging questions with great depth but in a way they could understand.”

The dialogue inspired Engelhart, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in North Merrick, the mother of two, and wife of diocesan Catholic Charities’ chief operating officer Paul Engelhart, to create a children’s book, she said, “since otherwise I thought it might get lost like everything else in cyberspace.”

Friendship with Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks to Children on Their First Holy Communion, was published last month by Catholic Truth Society, publisher to the Holy See in England. Blogger and children’s author Amy Wellborn edited the dialogue for the book, and Engelhart provided the illustrations, using watercolor.

Engelhart noted that before she started this project, she didn’t know much about Pope Benedict, but after hearing him preach at Pope John Paul II’s funeral, “there was something that resonated with me. I was particularly touched by his homily at the Mass for the inauguration of his pontificate, where he already began to introduce the importance of friendship with Jesus as essential for a life of beauty and liberation. It was at that point that I began to read his books and follow his writings as pope and discovered him to be an extraordinary teacher.”

It was during this time that she discovered his conversation with the children. She noted that the Pope spoke to them about his own first Communion, and when they asked him how we can know that Jesus is in the Eucharist even though we can’t see him, she liked how he compared it to knowing electricity is turning on a light, even though the electricity can’t be seen.

Engelhart had been a school art teacher for many years and has a studio in her home where she teaches art classes and paints watercolors for customers, but this was her first time illustrating a book.

“It’s different, illustrating in general,” she noted, “and when you’re commenting on the Pope, you want to be as accurate and supportive of the ideas being expressed as possible. But I had been inspired by the Pope’s teachings and it encouraged me to want to do this project because of my faith. This book really is an expression of my faith.”

The project finally came together after several years, she noted, and this past spring while visiting her daughter, who was studying in Rome, “we actually gave a copy of the mock-up to the Pope during a general audience.”

Though the Pope’s conversation is aimed at children, Engelhart noted that she hopes the book is something that will speak to entire families, who can read it together.

“I would hope that (by reading the book) they have a greater understanding of the sacrament of Holy Communion, that they would see it as the beginning of a friendship with Jesus, that they’ll always stay close to Jesus, and that the book will hopefully make them interested in the words of the Holy Father.”

Friendship with Jesus is not yet available in stores, but can be purchased through Engelhart’s website, www.annkissaneengelhart.com.

What a coincidence that tonight, in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Fahter will be answering questions from his other children - the priests, ministers of God consecrated by the sacrament of Holy Orders!