A homeschooling mom shares about her kids learning how a new Pope is elected
I have a sinus infection (I know, you didn’t ask, but I like to include rich detail in all my writing), and my head hurts. A lot.
So I knew that watching Benedict leave the Vatican for the last time as Pope was going to be physically painful for me. Oh sure, emotional pain in the form of a bittersweet goodbye, but even worse physical pain as a result of my sinus cavities filling up to bursting as I cried those odd, confusing tears. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing – papal abdication doesn’t happen every day, and I felt that my homeschool card would be revoked if I didn’t have my kids watch history unfold.
I called them all in front of the computer to watch EWTN’s live streaming of the events. Jude, the four-year old, sat in my lap and surveyed the scene with a creased brow and serious expression.
“What’s this, Mama?” He said suspiciously. I explained that we were watching the current Pope leaving the Vatican for the last time. Jude was silent for a moment, watching closely.
“Who’s the next Pope?” He asked after a while.
“I don’t know. No one but God knows.”
Jude turned around to look at me. “Well then,” he said, “I’ll do it. I’ll be the next Pope.” I smiled a little at the boy. This is coming from the child who cannot get through Mass without taking a nap on the pew or demanding that he get a piece “of that cracker” (yes, we’ve had multiple discussions about how it’s not a “cracker” and to call it so is extremely insulting to Jesus, but things take a while to sink in with The Jude sometimes). Pope Jude. I snorted a bit. But he didn’t let the idea go.
“Who are those people?” he demanded, stabbing a finger at the image of a Swiss Guard.
“That’s a member of the Swiss Guard. They’re like super special soldiers who are there to guard the Pope.”
“Like a police officer?”
“Sort of. But while a police officer is there to help everyone, the Swiss Guard is there only for the Pope.”
“An army guy? The Pope gets his own army guys?” Jude was now pressing his face right against the screen, resulting in two brothers shoving him aside so they could see.
Next to me, Lotus sighed heavily. I glanced over at her.
“I suppose only men can be Swiss Guards, too.” As the oldest child, she’s never ok about being told she can’t accomplish something, and gender-specific jobs irritate her.
“Yup. Only men. And only Swiss men. And only unmarried Swiss men. And only unmarried Swiss men between 19 and 30 years old who are at least 5’ 8” tall.” Her eyes widened at the requirements, then settled into a satisfied glow. If she couldn’t be a Swiss Guard, she was happy knowing that the majority of the world couldn’t be one, either.
Jude, however, cared only about the Swiss Guard in relation to his Papal appointment.
“They’re cool,” he announced. “I’ll take them.”
We watched a few more moments in silence. Then Jude spoke again.
“Mama? When I’m Pope, will I be rich?”
I tried to explain that the Pope has no personal possessions of his own, but that he doesn’t really need money, since the Church meets his needs.
“So people just give him things that he wants?” Jude has a way of forcing a person into a black-and-white answer.
“More or less,” I said hesitantly.
“When I’m Pope, and I don’t have money, who will give me new video games? The Swiss Guards? I bet they will. If they don’t, I’ll punch them in the face.”
There was an audible gasp from three of the children. The thought of a Pope punching anyone in the face, let alone a Swiss Guard over a video game, was too much for them. They all started shouting at Jude. Unperturbed, he raised both arms, and made a “settle down” gesture. His siblings did, in fact, settle down.
A few more silent moments passed. Then, on the screen, a door opened. Out came Benedict, dressed all in white, carrying a cane and walking slowly – so, so slowly. I teared up, and my head began to pound from the increased pressure.
Jude turned to look at me, alarmed by my sniffling. “Is that the Pope?” he asked. I nodded yes, not trusting myself to speak. “Where does he live?” With a voice thick with tears, I gave a brief explanation of the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, which could be seen on the screen. Jude surveyed it briefly, then nodded again. “That’s cool. I like it. I’ll live there and you can stay with me forever and ever, Mama.”
I smiled and blew my nose. Jude continues. “When I’m Pope, I’ll marry you.”
“You can’t be married when you’re Pope, honey,” I said.
“Because the Pope is a priest. And priests don’t get married.” He stared at me for a long moment, and then turned back to the screen. Benedict was walking along the hallway, out into the courtyard, and was bid farewell by various Cardinals.
“Hey, Jude. When you’re Pope, what will your name be?” asked the seven-year-old, who is already careful to call things by their correct name.
Jude sniffed imperiously. “I’ll be Saint Jude.”
“You can’t be that. You have to have a papal name.” Joaquin explained. “Oh! How about Pope Awesome the First?” The kids all decided that Pope Awesome the First was a fine name indeed, and silence fell over us again.
We watched the Holy Father board a helicopter, which earned Jude’s approval, then be lifted off into the air, as all the bells of St. Peter’s sounded out. I blew my nose again and felt my heart get very sad. It lasted only a moment, however, before Jude was at it again.
“Can I be Pope when I’m four?” I shook my head no. He thought for a second. “Then I’ll wait until I’m ten.” His siblings were all too engrossed in the news coverage to correct him.
“Mama? Where is the Pope place?”
“In Rome, baby.”
“Is that far? Can I walk there?” He glanced at the world map tacked up on the wall.
I smiled. “Nope. It’s too far to walk there.”
He’s not deterred. “Then drop me off at my Pope place, O.K., Mama? Then you can introduce me as Pope Awesome the First to my soldiers.”
“But you’re not Pope, honey.” I sensed that it might be time to remind Jude of this small fact, just to head off bigger problems down the road.
“Yes I am! I am Pope. That other guy left. We need a Pope. I’ll do it.”
“You have to be elected by the College of Cardinals first, sweetie.”
“Oh,” he says, stopping for only a split second. “Well, they did that.”
“You have to be a priest.”
“I am a priest.” At this, his brothers and sister pulled themselves out of the screen and protested. Jude appealed to me. “I am a priest, Mama! Remember? Remember all the times when I’m being bad and you say to me, ‘Be a priest Jude, be a priest?’”
I laughed at this. He’s right. If I had a dime for every time Jude’s antics prompted that exasperated phrase from my lips, I’d be in Rome watching the Pope’s departure in person.
“Remember?” Jude pressed. I nodded. “Well, I did it. I’m a priest. And I got elected by those other guys. Now drop me off at my Pope place.”
With this, he slid off my lap, grabbed his sneakers and started putting them on. He looked up at his sister. “And Lotus, when I’m Pope, you can come into my office whenever you want. I promise. Oh… wait. Mama, does the Pope have an office?”
So there, in my homeschool classroom, the 266th Pope was self-elected.
Pope Awesome the First, humble servant of God.