Speaking with Our Children about the Passing of the Holy Father
By Lisa M. Hendey

©"L'Osservatore Romano" photo from the book John Paul II: A Light for the World“Be not afraid!” – Perhaps these words of advice, given to us by our beloved Pope John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate in 1978, are the best resource available for parents looking to provide comfort and reassurance to their children at the passing of this great spiritual light.  I have found this week that along with dealing with my own personal mourning, it has been important to spend time in prayer and conversation with my children as they deal with the death of the only Pope they have ever known. 

Children are so wonderful – they freely and without reservation express many of the emotions we “grown ups” hold inside.  My two boys are no exception.  I find myself looking to my ten year old son Adam frequently as a role model of empathy and compassion.  Adam, at ten years old, has always been a perceptive child, and particularly so when it comes to human suffering.  He’s the first to cry “Stop, he needs help!” at the site of a poor person looking for support.  He’s also his mother’s greatest defender, coming to my aid against the light hearted teasing of his father and older brother.  So it’s no surprise that he is particularly in tune to Mom’s mood this week, and to the profound wave of emotions that fill my heart. 

To help shepherd my own “flock” through this period of mourning and prayer for our Church’s leaders, I consulted one of the best group of “experts” I know on the topic of Catholic parenting, the mothers at the Catholic Mom Community (www.cmomc.org).  I asked them for their insights on how they are speaking with their own children about the death of the Holy Father and this time of transition for our Church.  I am happy to share some of their words of wisdom. 

  • Attend Special Masses and turn to the Eucharist – Mom of five Lisa, from Greenville, California, plans to attend special Eucharistic celebrations being held several evenings this week in her own parish.  Children may obtain holy card memorials at these services that will remind them for years of the many good works of this special man.
  • Family Prayer – Many families are taking time to remember the intentions of the Holy Father during their family prayer times.  Denise, a mother of five daughters from Apple Valley, California, says her family is setting aside time each evening to pray as a family.
  • Monitor Television Watching – Mary, mother of a large family in Alton, Illinois, recommends monitoring children’s exposure to television coverage.  It is important, especially with younger children, that time be taken to explain images they may view on television that may frighten or confuse them.  Prudent at any time, this advice to monitor our children’s viewing is especially appropriate at this time.  Suggested alternatives might include viewing a videotape documentary on the life of John Paul II.
  • Family Rosary – Knowing the Holy Father’s dedication to the Rosary, family time spent praying the Rosary is a wonderful tribute to John Paul II.  Sassy, mother to nine from Iowa, has encouraged her children to remember the Cardinals in their prayers during this important time of discernment.
  • “Be not afraid!”  - Bea, mother of five from Arizona, is one of my favorite “experts” and a continual font of wisdom for me, as she has raised a daughter and four sons, (including one priest and two seminarians).  She counsels: “When Christ died the apostles were afraid, ran and hid for a while. When our first Pope, St. Peter died, I'm sure the Catholics at the time were also afraid. When a baby is being born, it is said HE is afraid. He is leaving the only world he's ever known. He has a sense that he will die, But his life is about to begin.  The Pope's life, his life in eternity is about to begin, we should rejoice for him.  When Christ ascended into heaven he told the apostles they should rejoice because He is going to the Father.  The Pope's mission on earth was finished and God called him home.  We should rejoice for him. It is for ourselves that we weep because he has left us.  Christ said about the Church that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." We have God's Word, nothing else is needed.  Another phase will begin in Our Church, we should rejoice. God will not abandon us. He never has. It is we who abandon Him by sin. The only thing we should fear is sin.  It is time to pray for our Church and await what God has in store for us.  The Pope would always say "Be not afraid." The biggest honor we can give our Pope at this time is to heed his words.

Regardless of how you and your family take time to commemorate John Paul II and his papacy and life of service, time spent in prayer and conversation with our children during this historic time will be remembered for years to come.  We need look no further than to the example offered us by this special light of Christ himself as we take time with our own loved ones to remember him and to seek his intercession in turning our hearts towards Jesus Christ.

Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.

Resources on the Papacy and the Life of John Paul II