‘Is my dad in heaven,’ little boy asks pope
After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighbourhood’s children.
Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis’ parish visits. And, at St Paul of the Cross parish on Sunday, there were the usual questions like, “How did you feel when you were elected pope?”
But then it was Emanuele’s turn. The young boy smiled at the pope as he approached the microphone. But then froze. “I can’t do it,” Emanuele said.
Mgr Leonardo Sapienza, a papal aide, encouraged the boy, but he kept saying, “I can’t.”
“Come, come to me, Emanuele,” the pope said. “Come and whisper it in my ear.”
Mgr Sapienza helped the boy up to the platform where the pope was seated. Emanuele was sobbing by that point, and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace, patting his head and speaking softly to him. With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat.
“If only we could all cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts like he has,” the pope told the children. “He was crying for his father and had the courage to do it in front of us because in his heart there is love for his father.”
Pope Francis said he had asked Emanuele if he could share the boy’s question and the boy agreed. “‘A little while ago my father passed away. He was a non-believer, but he had all four of his children baptised. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?'”
“How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, ‘He was good,'” the pope told the children. “And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make his children like that, then it’s true, he was a good man. He was a good man.
“That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptised. He had a good heart,” Pope Francis said.
“God is the one who says who goes to heaven,” the pope explained.
The next step in answering Emanuele’s question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has. “What do you think? A father’s heart. God has a dad’s heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptised his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?”
“Does God abandon his children?” the pope asked. “Does God abandon his children when they are good?” The children shouted, “No.”
“There, Emanuele, that is the answer,” the pope told the boy. “God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptise your children than to baptise them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much.”
Pope Francis encouraged Emanuele to “talk to your dad; pray to your dad.”
Photo: Pope Francis embraces Emanuele, a boy whose father died, as he visits St Paul of the Cross Parish in Rome on Sunday.Tags: baptism, children, dad, heaven, Pope Francis, rome