The children of St. Francis of Assisi know a lot about the man they gathered to celebrate and remember during a Memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II held Tuesday morning in the Triangle church.
“He was the most traveled pope,” said one child.
Dressed in their maroon and plaid school uniforms, the 300 kindergarteners through eighth-graders were eager to tell their parish priest what they had learned about the late leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The 84-year-old pontiff died Saturday night. His funeral will be held Friday at the Vatican. Catholic churches throughout the area and the world are holding Memorial Masses and special services this week in remembrance of the pope.
At St. Francis of Assisi on Tuesday, the Catholic school children sat quietly in the front of the church. They raised their hands anxiously to be called on by the Rev. Jack Marino during his homily.
“He was the first Polish pope,” said a child.
“He had a great influence on young people,” said another.
“Pope John Paul II loved people. He loved the sick and the poor but young people were very important to him because he knew that young people were the future of the church,” Marino said. “He had a lot of hope for the future.”
The children knew the pope had traveled more than 700,000 miles around the world during his 26 years as pontiff. They knew he kissed the ground of each country after stepping off his plane. They knew he had a great influence on ending communism and that he believed in peace. They also knew he was an actor before he became a priest.
Alex Coyle, a seventh-grader at St. Francis, said that all of their teachers taught lessons about the pope Monday when the school returned from its Easter vacation.
“I think other religions should honor him too. He learned about their religions and taught them about ours,” said eighth-grader Kelsey Taylor. “He was a great man. He was a world leader.”
“I think it’s special that he came to Washington, D.C.,” said eighth-grader Neil Sargent who was anxious for another papal visit and would attend. John Paul II visited the National Mall in 1979.
“Even if it’s more crowded than the Montclair (community’s Fourth of July) fireworks, I would go too,” Kelsey said.
In addition to learning about John Paul II, St. Francis school Principal Tricia Barber said her students would also be studying about the church’s rituals in selecting a new pontiff.
The burning of the ballots by the cardinals and the signal of white smoke emerging from the Vatican Palace as a sign of the selection of a new pope was of particular interest to the children.
“I think that is so cool,” Neil said.
“Today we rejoice in the gift of Pope John Paul II to our church and our world,” Marino said during the Mass. “We celebrate his life with us and his eternal life.
“The pope is happy now. He will know the fullness of God’s love,” Marino said.
Much of his homily focused on the traits and attitudes such as mercy, obedience and humility, that the pope shared with Jesus.
“Do your best to follow [that] example,” Marino told the children.