Children are a fascinating lot. In their innocence, trust, playfulness and inquisitiveness they can often be our teachers. They question and wonder about big and small things; they hunger for knowledge. There’s no end or limit to their sense of wonderment. And this will never change.
They also speak their minds freely. Who can forget the long-running television show “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” hosted by Art Linkletter for decades and brought back to life some years ago by Bill Cosby. Linkletter’s book by the same title is reportedly one of the top 14 bestsellers in American publishing history. In 1975 a book entitled Mister God, This Is Anna captured the attention of vast audiences and remains in print to this day. And at Doubleday we published in 1987 Dear God: Children’s Letters to God by David Heller, which likewise remains in print, now in an illustrated edition.
Among the provocative questions the children put to God were “Is Jesus your only kid?” and “There isn’t any school in heaven, is there?” In 1993 I published Where Does God Live? Questions and Answers for Parents and Children, by Msgr. Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman (a.k.a. “The God Squad”). Contributors to that book asked, “Does God know what I’m thinking or what I’ll do?” and “When my hamster Elmo died, did he go to heaven?” (I hope so.)
Publishers know how to keep the engine greased. Amazon.com lists 182 such books. These even include exchanges with famous personages—Harry Potter, Albert Einstein and Santa Claus, among others. So it’s not surprising, as we observe this month the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s pontificate, that we should hear from children again. The pope is visibly taken with babies, youngsters and teens. It is reported that during an audience with a large gathering, he will make his way straight to the child in the mother’s arms for a blessing.
Just in time for the big event comes Dear Papa: Children Celebrate Pope John Paul II With Letters of Love and Affection, compiled by Richard A. Klein and Virginia D. Klein (Liguori/Triumph, $19.95, hardcover). A documentary filmmaker who, along with his wife, worked on the papal visit to St. Louis, Mo., in 1999, Klein was inspired to do this book while recovering from a stroke. Ten thousand students aged 5 and up responded to the invitation to write the pope. The selection process must have been tedious, but the author remarks in the introduction that all 10,000 letters have been copied onto disks and, along with the book, will be presented to the pope and the Vatican archives.
In addition to some children’s drawings throughout, many of the pope himself (not bad, either), Dear Papa features full-color photographs from the archives of L’Osservatore Romano. The letters themselves range from the profound to the funny. But even the latter are written in earnest. Listen to some of them:
“Dear Pope John Paul, I have a great religion teacher. I have learned a lot this year. Please write to him and ask him to pass me. Not that I wouldn’t want to take his class again, but I don’t want to fail. Your friend, Billy, age 13.”
“Happy anniversary, Papa. Can you pray for my mom (iner [sic] ear problem), for my two grandmothers (back problem and assma [sic] and swelling problems). Thank you so much. Love you Papa. Love, Lisa S.”
“Dear Holy Father, I really admire how you take care of all your responsibilities. I can barely finish my homework. Sincerely, Yesenia, age 12.”
And a boy named Grant expressed the sentiment of many: “Dear Papa, Happy 25th annaversity [sic]. Thanks for being a good role model and leading the church successfully....”
Finally, we hope the pope will heed this advice from 11-year-old Caitlin: “Dear Papa, Have a great anniversary. Sit back, relax, and eat a lot of cake....”
From their mouths to God’s ear.