Illustrating Friendship with Jesus: An Interview with Ann Kissane Engelhart
How does Pope Benedict XVI relate to children in this book?
He seemed genuinely delighted to be with them, laughing with them, embracing them. The children asked him questions about the meaning of the sacrament, and about his own First Communion, about the Mass, confession, etc. Pope Benedict spontaneously responded to the children's questions, which were the kinds of questions all children and many adults have—including me! He gave simple, yet profound answers right on their level, with the encouragement and affection of a pastor who really cares about them.
How does the pope explain the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist to the children?
This was one of my favorite interactions. A child named Andrea says, "My catechist told me that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but how? I can't see him!" The pope laughed, and pointing to his microphone, went on to use a metaphor of electricity. He explains that "we don't always see the very deepest things . . . but we can see and feel their effects." "We do not see the electric current, but we the light." He said, "People change, they improve—therefore, we don't see the Lord himself but we see the effects of the Lord: so we can understand that Jesus is present." He continued to respond to the questions using these kinds of metaphors that children can relate to. He said that going to confession is like cleaning our rooms to prevent the dirt from building up, and to get a fresh start.
During the pope's recent trip to Benin, he spoke rather movingly to the children about his First Communion, so this is a favorite theme of his, and here we have your lovely book detailing his engagement with kids on this issue. How do you think, from a pastoral point of view, this reviewing the First Communion experience can affect parents and other adults?
This is a great question! It is true that Pope Benedict has frequently spoken about his own first Communion Day with great tenderness. He speaks of it as being a moment when Jesus had "entered my heart, He had actually visited me." In Benin and in this book he says it was one of the most "beautiful days of my life."
Pope Benedict knows that all Catholics remember their First Holy Communion and all of the external features of the day . . . our clothing, the weather, the music, our emotions . . . no matter how near or far from the Church we are at the present time. And like him, we remember that it was a time of grace, when something extraordinary happened to us. By reminding us of this singular event, I suspect that the pope hopes to bring us back to that moment and to revive in us the childlike wonder and awe of what God has done for us in the Eucharist. He calls our attention to Jesus' admonition that we should become like "a little child."
And you had an opportunity to show the book to the Holy Father, didn't you?
Yes! My family was visiting my daughter on her semester abroad in Rome. We had made a request to give Pope Benedict a copy of a mock-up of the book during a General Audience, but were doubtful that it would be granted. That day, each time we showed our tickets to the Swiss Guard they kept advancing us closer and closer where the pope is seated. Finally, when we reached the stage level a tuxedoed gentleman looked at the tickets and then his clipboard and pointed to my husband and I saying "You two—you can kissa da Pope!"