My hopes to raise a future pope go up in smoke


At 3 and 5, our boys barely know the names of our parish priests who shake their hands at Mass, never mind being able to name the pope.

Still, this historic moment for our Church seems like a good opportunity to help our sons understand who the pope is, why he fills that role, and what having a pope as our shepherd means to us as Catholics.

So over the past two weeks we have been praying for our current pope and future pope. And we have been talking about who the pope is.

We don’t talk about him all the time, of course. We have a lot of other things to discuss—what’s for dinner, whether we’ll have time to make Robin masks, why that ambulance is driving with its lights off, how to spell alien, and how many days until we go to the beach.

But now and then we work the topic into conversation.

Because they are preschoolers, I offer a very simplistic description.

I tell our boys that the pope is a priest, and that all the other priests look to him for guidance. And I tell them that the pope is someone we also look to for advice in how to serve God.

We talk about how the pope has a special friendship with God, and how the pope talks to God and tells him about the many concerns of people around the world.

We talk about how the pope travels to meet with people, to pray with people, and to share with them the message of Jesus’ love.

The other day as we were talking about the pope, Daniel—who is 3—was listening intently.

“Mama, I want be pope,” he said.

Wow, I thought. I haven’t even mentioned getting to ride in the Popemobile.

Last I had checked, Daniel was planning to be a firefighter or a garbage man—or “fireman-garbageman same time.”

“Well,” I said, “maybe you will be pope one day. First you would become a priest.”

And then I started telling our sons a little about the conclave. I talked about how the special priests there—the cardinals—write the name of the person they believe should be pope, and how God helps them choose the right person for the job.

I described how after they write on the pieces of paper, they read them. Then they burn the paper, and the smoke goes up into the sky.

Then, when there is finally a pope, the smoke is white—and everyone outside cheers.

“Mama,” Daniel said abruptly. “I NO WANT be pope!”

“What?” I said, trying to replay the conversation in my head. “Why not?”

“I no like fire,” he said firmly. “I no want smoke.”

Hmm. Well, I guess maybe our little boy should cross firefighter off his list of future careers, too.

How are you talking to your children about the current and future pope? What questions are they asking? Do you have any advice to share?

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.