Last Saturday, the eve of Pentecost, Pope Benedict met with 7,000 children, members of the Pontifical Society of the Holy Childhood (it uses variations on this name in different countries), in Rome.
As on one previous occasion, in 2005 when he met with children who had just made their First Holy Communion, the pope answered without notes some questions from the children.
Sandro Magister gives a full report of the questions and answers.
Heres' the first question and answer. I've highlighted some parts of the answer and added [comments].
Q: My name is Anna, I'm twelve. Pope Benedict, my friend Giovanni has an Italian daddy and his mother is from Ecuador, and he is very happy. Do you think that someday the different cultures can live together without arguing in the name of Jesus?
A: I understand that you all want to know how we, as children, were able to help one another. I must say that I lived my elementary school years in a small town of 400 inhabitants, very far from the big cities. So we were a bit naive [He's kind of saying 'taga-bukid/bondoc ako,' as Filipinos might put it - 'I was a "country hick!"'], and in this town there were, on the one hand, very rich farmers and also others who were much less rich but well off, and on the other poor laborers, craftsmen.
Shortly before I started elementary school, our family arrived in this town from another town, so we were a little bit like strangers to them, even our dialect was different ['dialect' as in a variation of the German language. Here in the Philippines people often describe their native regional language as a 'dialect', which is inaccurate]. So in this school, there were very diverse social situations. Nonetheless, there was a beautiful communion among us. They taught me their dialect, which I didn't know yet. [The young Joseph Ratzinger experienced the reality of migration, albeit only to another part of his region in Germany, but having to make new friends and so on.]
We worked together well, and I must say that sometimes we argued too, but afterwards we made up and forgot about what had happened.This seems important to me. Sometimes arguing seems inevitable in human life; but it is still important to be able to reconcile, forgive, start over again and not leave bitterness in our souls. [How true - and how consoling is this. Life would be very bland if we never argued and would we really know what it means to be followers of Jesus if we never experienced forgiving and being forgiven?]
I recall with gratitude how we all worked together: each helped the other, and we made our journey together. We were all Catholic, and this was naturally a great help. [This is the situation in most parts of the Philippines, where most would identify themselves as Catholics. It used to be true in most parts of Ireland but I'm not so sure now.] Because of this we learned the Bible together, from the creation to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and also the beginnings of the Church.
We learned the catechism together, we learned to pray together, we prepared together for first confession, for first communion: that was a wonderful day. We learned that Jesus himself comes to us, and that He is not a faraway God: he enters into my life, into my soul. And if Jesus himself enters into each one of us, we are brothers, sisters, friends, and so that is how we should behave.
For us, this preparation for first confession as the purification of our consciences, of our lives, and then also for first communion as a concrete encounter with Jesus who comes to me, who comes to all of us, were factors that contributed to forming our community. They helped us to get along together, to learn together to reconcile when necessary.
We also put on little performances: it is important to work together, to be attentive to each other. Then when I was about eight or nine I became an altar boy. Back then there weren't any altar girls yet, but the girls read better than we did. So they read the readings of liturgy, and we were altar boys. [I think that in Germany before Vatican II, when Mass was always in Latin - still the official language of the liturgy of the Roman or Latin Rite to which most Catholic belong - that while the priest read the readigns in Latin quietly at the altar, lay persons would read them audibly in German. However, I'm not quite sure.] At that time there were still many Latin texts to learn, so everyone had work to do.
As I said, we weren't saints: we had our arguments, but still there was a beautiful communion where the distinctions between rich and poor, between intelligent and less intelligent didn't count. What counted was communion with Jesus in the journey of the common faith and in common responsibility, in games, in common work. We found the capacity to live together, to be friends, and although since 1937, for more than seventy years, I haven't been in that town, we have remained friends. So we learned to accept each other, to bear one another's burdens.
This seems important to me: in spite of our weakness we accept each other and together with Jesus Christ and the Church we find together the path of peace and learn to live well. [Pope Benedict may be giving an idealized recollection of his childhood years but his words are words of hope, lifting up the spirits of the young. They remind me of the words of St Luke in two passages of the Acts of the Apostles: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (2:42-47) . . . Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common (4:32)].