While millions of Catholics around the world look up to Pope Francis for spiritual guidance and answers to the meaning of life, the Holy Pontiff has been known to find inspiration in an unlikely source of wisdom—children. Indeed, with the purity of their intentions and absence of guile, kids speak from the heart; they act freely and trust with all their heart.
“Children, who have no problem in understanding God, have much to teach us,” he said at a Holy Mass on October 1, 2016, in the Meskhi Stadium, Tbilisi, Georgia. “They tell us that He accomplishes great things in those who put up no resistance to Him, who are simple and sincere, without duplicity.”
We reflect on the lessons children have taught Pope Francis through the years:
“Let her be. God speaks.”
This Lolo Kiko told his security detail when Clelia Manfellotti, a 10-year-old girl with autism, played around the stage as he spoke before a general audience at the Vatican last August. The crowd cheered in approval.
Describing Clelia as “a victim of an illness and doesn’t know what she is doing, he then addressed the audience: “I ask one thing, but everyone should respond in their heart: ‘Did I pray for her; looking at her, did I pray so that the Lord would heal her, would protect her? Did I pray for her parents and for family?’ When we see any person suffering, we must always pray. This situation helps us to ask this question: ‘Did I pray for this person that I have seen, (this person) that is suffering?’”
“When Jesus says we have to be like children, it means we need to have the freedom that a child has before his father.”
In a 2018 instance of a child wandering up on stage during a general audience, Wenzel Wirth, a 6-year-old boy with speech challenges, walked up to Pope Francis and pulled on the hand of a Swiss Guard. He then rolled on the floor, ran around the marble platform, and managed to keep at it even as his mother and sister tried to coax him away. “Leave him here to play,” Francis assured the boy’s mother.
“He is from Argentina—undisciplined!” joked His Holiness to German archbishop Georg Gaenswein.
“He has something that made me think: He’s free,” added the Pope. “Undisciplined-ly free, but he’s free. It made me think, am I so free before God?”
“Children can teach us how to smile and cry again.”
In his message to a general audience on March 18, 2015, Pope Francis praised youngsters for their spontaneity, something that adults appear to have lost as they grow older. “So often our smile becomes a cardboard smile, fixed, a smile that is not natural, even an artificial smile, like a clown,” he said. “But we must ask ourselves: do I smile spontaneously, frankly, with love or is my smile artificial? Do I still cry or have I lost the capacity to cry? These are two very human questions that children teach us.”