As Copts, and the majority of Egyptians for that matter, mourned Pope Shenouda III’s death on 17 March, children especially had a special heartache at the loss. And how
As Copts, and the majority of Egyptians for that matter, mourned Pope Shenouda III’s death on 17 March, children especially had a special heartache at the loss. And how could not they when, for them, the Pope was the warm heart that reached out to them and the arms that were always outstretched to receive them?
My new red shoes
“A young family,” the Pope once said, “came to visit me. The mother kept on pressing her little boy to recite ‘Our Father’, so he would impress me. The boy, who couldn’t be made to show off right then, looked at me excitedly then burst: “Do you see my new red shoes?” The boy was simply too happy with his new shiny pair of shoes to move into the sublime, spiritual atmosphere his mother wished to push him into.
“I learnt something I never forgot from this little boy,” the Pope said. “Now, whenever I meet a child I move into his or her world. I comment on their clothes, on girls’ earrings or bows. And I always have a chocolate or a gift for them.”
Jesus Christ told His disciples, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” and the Pope did just that. During his weekly Wednesday evening sermon, he more often than not read aloud messages sent to him by children. Frequently it was from one or another child whose birthday was on that date and who wished to have a picture taken with Pope Shenouda. The Pope would call the child up and pose for the photograph, then give a small amount of money for a birthday gift. And how often did the Pope bend over to listen to something that a child wished to tell him in secret.
On one of his pastoral visits to the UK, Pope Shenouda was offered a bunch of flowers by a little British-Egyptian girl who looked at him nervously. But the Pope looked back and asked her if she knew what was the longest word in English. The little girl of course did not, upon which the Pope told her it was the word ‘smiles’, explaining that there was a ‘mile’ between the two S’s. The girl giggled and swiftly relaxed.
Winning our children over
When Pope Shenouda won a €12,500 prize in 2011 from Germany for being a man of peace, he donated the money to the children’s cancer hospital.
In 2010, he published in the Cairo daily al-Ahram an article under the title “What we can learn from children”. He wrote, “We learn from children all about love, good spirits, transparency, innocence and tackling matters in simplicity. A child is born without evil, malice, slyness or hatred. All these are adults features that are engrained in the children as they grow up.’
In 1993, Pope Shenouda published a book on how to deal with children, based mainly on his experiences. He wrote that this book was the culmination of his own experience with children, whether through Sunday School, his various gatherings with families inside churches, nurseries or clubs, and at other varied occasions. “I offer this book for Church education,” he wrote in his book, “and for education in general, because the child is the foundation of the community and the Church. If we win him over, we gain a full generation, but if we lose him, we lose the future of a whole generation, and of other generations accordingly.”
“I love children,” the Pope wrote. “I laugh and play with them and talk to them. I see innocence, honesty and openness in children. I love the swiftness of their responses, which we rarely find in adults,” he wrote.
The book tackles the features of early and late childhood, the importance of music, love, laughter and play for the development of children. Pope Shenouda warns of the jealousy of children, and how important it is to distinguish between a child’s imagination and untruths. He highlights the importance of encouraging and praising children, and explains how Sunday Schools should carefully select the topics they discuss with the children, and the way to discuss them.
God is a friend
We cannot expect children to sit quiet and still, the Pope said. “It goes against their nature. They will only end up resenting authority.”
Pope Shenouda was always keen to warn parents against resorting to intimidation in the process of educating children. “Do not tell your child things like, ‘God will be angry at you;’ ‘God will not love you if you do so;’ or ‘You will go to hell if you do that.’ Don’t draw a scary image of God to your children; a God who lies in wait for their mistakes to punish them; or a God who is always against their freedom and desires. And don’t under any condition make your child feel that he can lose God’s love.
“Before joining the monastery,” the Pope said, “I had a neighbour who became ill. While on his deathbed, his relatives took his child away so that he would not see his father dying. The child was brought home a few days after his father had died. His relatives told him, ‘God has taken your father away.’ For a very long time the boy remained angry with God for taking his father away.” Pope Shenouda commented that the relatives should have chosen another approach to break the news to the child. They should have told him, for instance, “Your father went to heaven.”
Pope Shenouda, you definitely gave us the best answer for children when they ask us what happened to you. We tell them that our father has gone to heaven.
29 April 2012