Back-to-school homework for students includes preparing to meet pope

NEW YORK — Being called to the principal’s office during the school year can cause angst even among the most mischievous students. But for those who typically demonstrate their best behavior, being summoned during the summer may be more daunting.

Allison Reyes, a third-grader at Our Lady of the Angels School in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, smiles during an Aug. 20 news conference to outline details of Pope Francis’ visit to the school in September. (CNS photo | Chris Shgeridan, Catholic New York)

Fortunately for 24 well-behaved youngsters from four Catholic elementary schools in Harlem, such a phone call from the principal proved to be more pleasing than a splash in the pool.

The pupils learned they will represent their schools when Pope Francis visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem late in the afternoon on Sept. 25.

Timothy McNiff, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, outlined details of the papal visit to the school during an Aug. 20 news conference along with the principals and two students from each of the four participating schools.

“This school represents so many of our schools in that it’s a doorway out of poverty to so many recent immigrants,” McNiff said.

Benjamin Grassia, a fourth-grader at St. Paul School, said he meeting the pope would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The student said he plans to ask Pope Francis “if he misses Argentina,” because his parents are from there.

“Today’s like the best day ever,” said Farida Mintoumba, a fourth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo School. She takes seriously the responsibility of representing her peers in welcoming the pope. To prepare, she has been studying all things Pope Francis.

Mintoumba will share with the pope her school’s environmental project “about thanking God for the gifts of the earth.”

She also will speak French, “my language,” she said, to Pope Francis. She said it is important to “just be yourself and just be happy” for the opportunity to meet the Holy Father. “He’s my family, and he’s the whole world’s family in Christ.”

Essa Nahshal, a third-grader from St. Charles, already knows what he plans to ask the pope: “How did you survive with one lung?” Essa was referring to the partial removal of the pope’s right lung when he was diagnosed with pneumonia after falling gravely ill in 1957 at age 21.

The youngster, who is Muslim, will also tell the pope an important fact about his school: “There are a lot of people who are like me in it — it’s not only Catholics.”

Other students have rehearsed how a conversation with the pope might play out. “First, I would say, ‘It’s an honor.’ Second, I would say, ‘Why did you sell your motorcycle?'” said Maziya Clemente, a fourth-grader at St. Ann School.

Her classmate, Noah Rodriguez, concedes he’s a bit nervous about the big meeting but will “just try to keep cool” in front of Pope Francis. Meanwhile, he has been busy “practicing talking to very high in faith people.”

Emely Rodriguez, a third-grader at St. Paul’s, said the day she was told she gets to meet the pope she dreamt that same night about how it would go. She plans to ask the pope to pray for her entire class as a reminder to her peers “that the pope is caring about them and thinking about all of them.”

Nicholas Marronaro, a fourth-grader at Our Lady Queen of Angels, knows he is about to make history. “I take it really seriously because I’m representing the whole school,” he said. “It’s a big job.”

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Chicoine is news editor at Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper.