VATICAN CITY - Children may say the darnedest things, but
when it comes to questions about faith they can make even the
most learned parents and priests pause.
"These are tough," Pope Francis said when presented with
questions from 30 children from around the world.
Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, who went through the questions
with the pope, said half the time he personally was stumped
when thinking about how he would have responded. But the pope
The questions, illustrated with the drawings of the children
aged 6-13, and the pope's answers will be published March 1
as the book Dear Pope Francis.
"What did God do before the world was made?" one child asked.
"Do bad people have a guardian angel, too?" asked another.
In the book, coordinated and published by the U.S.-based
Loyola Press, Pope Francis responds to those and 28 other
queries; some of the questions are theological, others are
practical and a few are about the pope personally, including
what he wanted to be when he grew up.
To the question about what God was doing before creation, the
heart of the pope's answer is, "Think of it this way: Before
creating anything, God loved. That's what God was doing: God
Questions about Jesus, war and peace and about heaven also
are included, though Father Spadaro was keeping those exact
questions and answers under wraps during a late January
Some of the personal questions made Pope Francis laugh and
the pope's answers to those questions made Father Spadaro
laugh, the Jesuit said. The pope admits in the book that when
he was small he wanted to be a butcher because the butcher
his grandmother bought meat from had an apron with a big
pocket that seemed to be full of money.
The children's questions are "simple, but not silly," said
Father Spadaro, who discussed them with Pope Francis and
recorded his answers.
Father Spadaro heads La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal
filled with articles on philosophy, theology, literary
criticism and political theory. He has never worked with
young children and said he was in awe of how the pope handled
the questions - taking them seriously and responding to them
honestly and clearly.
Some of the pope's answers, he said, are "inspired."
"This is important," Father Spadaro said. "It says a lot
about the magisterium of Pope Francis; he knows his ministry
can reach children."
At the request of Loyola Press, Father Spadaro asked Pope
Francis last May if he would be willing to do the book. The
Jesuit publishing house had asked Father Spadaro to approach
the pope since he had conducted the first big interview with
Pope Francis in 2013.
"The pope said 'yes' immediately and with enthusiasm," Father
Loyola Press then reached out to dozens of Jesuits and
collaborators around the globe, asking them to solicit
questions and drawings from children. Sometimes Loyola had to
ship off crayons, markers and paper because the children had
In the end, 259 children in 26 countries submitted questions.
The big batch of letters are in 14 languages and come from
children in wealthy cities, poor rural areas and even refugee
Choosing which letters the pope would answer in the book was
done with input from the children, parents, grandparents,
teachers and Jesuits, Father Spadaro said. But he went into
the reserve pile and pulled out a few more as well.
In August, Father Spadaro read the letters out loud to the
pope in Italian, but the pope also scrutinized the drawings,
the Jesuit said. He commented on the scenes and colors and
often had a good laugh over the way the kids drew the pope.
For the answers, "I was not just taking dictation," Father
Spadaro said. The pope enjoys a conversation; for the book,
that meant the pope would sometimes discuss the questions and
potential answers with the Jesuit scribe and, often, would
return to add something to an answer after they had already
moved on to other letters.
"He's a volcano," Father Spadaro said.
The pope would look off into space as if picturing the
children and responding to them in person, usually in
Spanish, but sometimes in Italian, the Jesuit said.
The questions stayed with the pope, who later referred to
some of them in speeches and homilies, he said. The most
noticeable example was the question from 8-year-old Ryan in
Canada about what God was doing before creation.
In the pope's unscripted talk at the Festival of Families in
Philadelphia in September, Pope Francis told the crowd, "A
young person once asked me - you know how young people ask
hard questions! - 'Father, what did God do before he created
"Believe me, I had a hard time answering that one," the pope
admitted in Philadelphia. "I told him what I am going to tell
you now. Before he created the world, God loved, because God
Although it might not be "theologically precise," the pope
said that night, God's love was so great that "he had to go
out from himself, in order to have someone to love outside of
himself. So God created the world. ... But the most beautiful
thing God made - so the Bible tells us - was the family."
Pope Francis will have a chance to meet nine or 10 of the
children in late February when he has promised a private
audience for some of the people who took part in the project.