VATICAN CITY - Sometimes, Pope Francis said, the most
important thing parents of a seriously ill child can do is to
keep asking God, "Why?"
A child of 2 or 3 years will torment his or her parents with
a continual series of "whys," the pope said. The little ones
are not looking for answers as much as they are seeking the
attention of mom or dad.
"We can ask the Lord, 'Why, Lord? Why do children suffer? Why
this child?' The Lord will not respond with words, but we
will feel his gaze upon us and this will give us strength,"
Pope Francis told the parents of 20 seriously ill children.
The pope met the children and their parents the evening of
May 29 in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae; the group
participated in a Catholic-sponsored pilgrimage to the Marian
shrines at Loreto and Lourdes.
Admitting, as he has before, that "many times in my life I've
been a coward," he told the parents he is in awe of their
courage and "heroism."
Parenting a seriously ill child, he said, "is a journey of
courage, the path of the cross."
A little girl named Mascia greeted the pope on behalf of the
children, who were from 2 to 14 years old, and assured him of
the prayers of the group he met in 2014, some of whom are now
One of the fathers, Andrea Maria, told the pope about his
wife's difficult pregnancy and how doctors had recommended an
abortion. They refused, he said, because he and his wife felt
God was calling them to an even greater love.
"A problem can never, ever be resolved by getting rid of
someone," the pope said. "That's what the Mafia does:
'There's a problem, get rid of him.'"
Pope Francis told the parents that just as the real presence
of Jesus in the Eucharist is a mystery, so, too, is the
suffering of children.
"You might ask, 'But you are a bishop who studied a lot of
theology, don't you have anything else to say?' No," the pope
said. "The Trinity, the Eucharist, the grace of God, the
suffering of children are all mysteries."
Pope Francis says he often thinks about Mary at the moment
when "they gave her the dead body of her son wounded, spat
upon, bloody, dirty. What did she say? 'Take him away'? No.
She embraced him, caressed him. Even Mary did not understand.
In that moment, she remembered the words the angel had said,
'He will be king, he will be great, he will be a prophet.'"
Mary, he said, must have felt confused and even betrayed.
"Do not be afraid to ask God why, to challenge him," the pope
told the parents, but "keep your hearts open to receive his
fatherly gaze. The only thing he might be able to say is, 'My
son suffered, too.'"
Pope Francis was back with another group of children the next
morning. The Italian youngsters, some of whom were born in
prison and all of whom have at least one parent in jail, were
treated to a special train trip thanks to the Pontifical
Council for Culture.
Flying and dreaming were the themes of their activities and
their fast-paced conversation with the pope. They began their
meeting with him by flying kites in the cleared parking lot
next to the Vatican audience hall.
Some of the little ones got up before dawn to board in the
train in Bari, a town in southern Italy. Encouraging all the
kids to gather close around him, he invited the exhausted
ones to take a little nap on the rug where his chair was.
The pope asked them, "Is it true that you flew today?" They
shouted, "Yes." And he said, 'One of you explain to me. How
did you fly?" A little boy said, "By dreaming."
Pope Francis asked the children if they could describe a
child who is unable to dream. They said such a person would
be unhappy and would have a heart of stone.
Catching the pope's attention, one little girl said a heart
hardens or becomes ice when "we don't listen to the Word of
God and to Jesus."
"Never stop dreaming," the pope told the children. "And, like
she said, never stop listening to the word of Jesus because
listening to the word of God makes one great; it enlarges
your heart and helps you to love everyone."