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In special meeting, Pope Francis talks peace, war, climate with kids from around the world

Pope Francis answered questions about war, the environment, and his daily life during an encounter with roughly 7,000 children from around the world on Monday.

The pope had previously announced the event after praying the midday Angelus on Oct. 1. 

The meeting, which featured children from 84 different countries, was part of an event sponsored by the Dicastery for Culture and Education dedicated to the theme “Let us learn from boys and girls.” 

On arriving in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis was greeted by children from Syria, Ukraine, Benin, Guatemala, and Australia.

He then gave a short speech in which he reminded kids that they have something to contribute to the world, especially in their simplicity. “One can learn from you,” he stressed.

The pope also invited the children to repeat phrases after him, such as “Life is a stupendous gift.”

“I wish I could welcome all of you one by one,” the pope said. “Since there are so many of you, I am addressing all of you together, and through you, all the boys and girls in the whole world, to bring you God’s embrace, the Church’s embrace, and every good person’s embrace, with my embrace.”

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Children from 14 countries were given the chance to ask Pope Francis questions. Most of the questions centered on the topics of peace and war and how to protect the earth from climate change.

At one point during the exchange a young boy from Syria asked the pope:  “Why do people kill children during war and no one defends them?”

This is the “evilness of war,” Francis responded, noting that it would be different if only soldiers, and never innocent civilians, were killed.

He asked those in the hall to be silent for a moment and then led everyone in praying an Our Father for innocent children killed in war.

When asked by children from Palestine and Ukraine about how to bring peace into the world, Francis said: “There’s no method to learn to make peace. There’s a gesture: You make peace with an outstretched hand.”

He recalled in a particular way the children who are suffering from war, hunger, disease, climate disasters, poverty, or danger “because bad people even put weapons in their hands.”

“God loves us so much,” Francis said, “and it’s beautiful to be together, to communicate, to share, and to give. Do this all the time! Our Lady will help you.”

He asked the crowd of children if they pray for Mary’s intercession and encouraged them to continue to do so.

Some children also asked the pope more personal questions, like what he dreams about at night and who his friends are.

Francis responded that he does not usually dream while he is sleeping and said his friends “are the people who live with me at home, they are friends. Then I have lots of friends outside, in some parishes, and then some cardinals too.”

“I have the grace to have friends and this is a grace of God,” he explained, adding that “a person who doesn’t have friends is a sad person.”

Asked how he spends his time during the day, Pope Francis said: “I wake up, I pray, and I work.”

“And there’s a lot of work here,” he noted, praising the dignity work brings and asking the children to repeat the phrases: “To work is health” and “Work gives dignity.”

A girl from the Philippines asked Francis what he does when he gets angry, to which he joked: “I don’t bite!”

He then passed along a piece of advice he once received: to drink a glass of water before responding in anger to someone.

Children from Brazil, Africa, Samoa, Haiti, and Ghana asked Pope Francis what children can do to save the earth, how to avoid waste, and if he is worried about the environment.

The pope said “we should all be worried for nature” and “people do not care for creation.”

Children can have an impact, he told the crowd, because “you are simple and you understand that to destroy the earth is to destroy ourselves.”

He asked them to repeat after him that “who destroys the earth, destroys us.”

“We should learn to take care of the planet,” Francis said.

He also encouraged children to not waste any meal because it is a “grace of God” to have something to eat while there are people who do not have enough.

“If some food from lunch is left over, eat it in the evening,” he advised.

“We have spoken about many beautiful things. But the most beautiful thing is peace,” the pope said at the conclusion of the meeting.

The Italian singer and rapper Mr. Rain also participated in the event for children. He performed his song “Supereroi” (“Superheroes”), which won Italy’s annual music competition, San Remo, in 2023.

The meeting included musical performances by children and a clown performance before Pope Francis arrived.

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