Pope Francis meeting with children preparing for first Communion at Rome’s San Giovanni Maria Vianney parish  (Vatican Media)

By Salvatore Cernuzio and Deborah Castellano Lubov

Apr 12 2024

Pope Francis inaugurates the “School of Prayer” with children preparing for their First Holy Communion, responding freely to numerous questions, as he encouraged them to embrace their faith, and turn to God in prayer, in the good times and the bad.

Turn to God always, and pray to Him even at life’s most difficult moments … Thank Him for your faith, and, at all times, for the big and small things, including for what you have to eat…

These were some of the suggestions Pope Francis gave to some 200 children, preparing for their First Holy Communion, at a Roman parish on the outskirts of Rome. With the meeting, consisting of an open dialogue between him and the little ones, the Holy Father spent about an hour inaugurating the “School of Prayer.”

Today’s encounter marked the first of a long series of meetings that will mark the Year of Prayer started as a spiritual preparation for the Jubilee Year of 2025.

For these series of meetings, the Pope chose to start with children.

Of the various themes touched upon with the children, Pope Francis wanted to emphasize, above all, to them, the importance of “saying thank you for everything,” to parents, friends, teachers, and catechists, but, first and foremost, “to God.”

“It is important to say thank you for everything. For example, if you enter someone’s house and don’t say thank you and then excuse me, or don’t greet them, is that nice?” The first word, therefore, the Pope said, is “thank you.” In addition, to showing gratitude, he reminded them to ask permission when appropriate, and to recognize when also to apologize.

“Three words: thank you, excuse me, sorry,” he said.

Praying even in the dark moments of life

Central to his dialogue with the children was the theme of prayer.

Prayer, the Pope stressed, should never be lacking, even in the “dark moments” of life.

“What are they?” he asked. “When someone dies, when someone faints, when you argue with a friend,” the children did not hesitate to respond.

One of the most touching questions was from Alice, who was battling illness herself, who asked, “How can I thank the Lord in illness?”

“Even in dark moments,” the Holy Father responded, “we must thank the Lord because He gives us the patience to endure difficulties.”

“Even in dark moments, we must thank the Lord because He gives us the patience to endure difficulties.”

“Let’s say together,” the Pope encouraged, “thank you Lord for giving us the strength to endure pain.” 

‘How do you pray?’

“But do you pray? How do you pray? What can you say to the Lord?” he asked again.

One of the children stood up, remembering that with his family, he always prays before eating.

“He said something important,” the Pope said as a response. “But do you know,” he asked, “that there are many children who have nothing to eat?”

“Do I thank the Lord for giving me something to eat? Do I thank Him for giving me a family?” he asked them.

“Do I thank the Lord for giving me something to eat? Do I thank Him for giving me a family?”

‘Thank you for giving me faith’

The last question touched on the theme of faith.

“Are you Christians?” Pope Francis asked, “do you have faith?”

“Let’s say it together,” he urged, “thank you Lord for giving me faith.”

“Let’s say it together: thank you Lord for giving me faith.”

Other children asked about the reasons for death and loneliness, while Sofia, who will receive Communion in a few days, said she was shaken by news of wars, which led to a question about how to say “thank you” in such a tragic moment?”

“We must thank Him always, in every moment,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded by giving the children a recommendation.

“Before going to sleep,” he said, “think: ‘what can I thank the Lord for today? Give thanks.'”

“We must thank Him always, in every moment”

Free dialogue with Pope Francis and praying together

He conversed with the little ones for 50 minutes

Pope Francis ended the meeting by reciting with the children a “Thanksgiving Prayer” composed for the occasion and printed on a leaflet with the Jubilee logo.

Rosaries or chocolate eggs

To each child, the Holy Father handed out rosaries.

“I brought you rosaries and also chocolate eggs?” Pope Francis had announced, asking, “Do you want the Rosaries or the Eggs?”

“I brought you rosaries and also chocolate eggs? Do you want the rosaries or the eggs?”

The little ones were divided on the issue, provoking laughter from the catechists.

To them and to the priests, the Holy Father gave the first six published volumes of the series ‘Notes on Prayer,‘ aids designed by the First Section of the Dicastery for Evangelization, and published by the Vatican Publishing House, to support pastoral and prayer life ahead of the imminent Jubilee Year of Hope. – Vatican News