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 | Rachel Thomas | Catholic News Agency

World Children’s Day: Pope Francis Instills Key Lesson on Holy Spirit at Mass with Children

After an exuberant kickoff event on Saturday for the first World Children’s Day, Pope Francis gathered with tens of thousands of children in St. Peter’s Square for Mass on this feast of the Holy Trinity on Sunday, May 26.

A piercing early summer sun moved everyone — from nuns to the boys’ choir — to shade their heads with colorful hats.

The creation of a World Children’s Day was announced by the pope on Dec. 8, 2023, at the midday Angelus. The idea for it was suggested to the pope by a 9-year-old boy in an exchange shortly before World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, last August. 

Among the special guests at the Mass was Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who together with her daughter Ginevra met the pope briefly before the Mass.

With this first event complete, Francis announced at the end of the festivities today that the next World Children’s Day will be held in September 2026.

The One who accompanies us

The Holy Father, smiling and clearly happy to be surrounded by children, completely improvised his homily, making it a brief and memorable lesson on the Holy Trinity.

“Dear boys and girls, we are here to pray together to God,” he began. But then counting on his fingers and enumerating, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he asked: “But how many gods are there?”As the crowd answered “one,” the pope praised them and started talking about each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

He began with God the Father — “who created us all, who loves us so much” — asking the children how we pray to him. They quickly answered “with the Our Father.”

Pope Francis went on to speak of the second person of the Trinity, after the children called out his name — Jesus — as the one who forgives all of our sins.

When he got to the Holy Spirit, the pope admitted that envisioning this person of the Trinity is more difficult.

“Who is the Holy Spirit? Eh, it is not easy,” he said.

“Because the Holy Spirit is God, he is within us. We receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, we receive him in the sacraments. The Holy Spirit is the one who accompanies us in life.”

Using this last phrase, the pope invited the children to repeat the idea a number of times: “He is the one accompanies us in life.”

“He is the one who tells us in our hearts the good things we need to do,” the pope said, having the kids repeat the phrase again: “He is the one who when we do something wrong rebukes us inside.”

The pope ended the homily thanking the children and also reminding them that “we also have a mother,” asking them how we pray to her. They answered “with the Hail Mary.” The pope encouraged them to pray for parents, for grandparents, and for sick children. 

“There are so many sick children beside me,” he said, as he indicated the children in wheelchairs near the altar. “Always pray, and especially pray for peace, for there to be no wars.”

Applauding the grandparents

The pope frequently urges young people to seek out their grandparents, and the give-and-take of his homily gave the impression of a beloved grandpa surrounded by his grandkids. He insisted that the kids quiet down for the time of prayer.

When the Mass concluded, and after praying the midday Angelus, the pope summarized the lessons of the homily: “Dear children, Mass is over. And today, we’ve talked about God: God the Father who created the world, God the Son, who redeemed us, and God the Holy Spirit … what did we say about the Holy Spirit? I don’t remember!”

The children needed no further invitation to answer loudly that “the Holy Spirit accompanies us in life.” Joking that he couldn’t hear well, the pope had them say it again even louder and then prayed the Glory Be with them.

The pope also asked for a round of applause for all the grandparents, noting that at the Presentation of the Gifts, a grandfather had accompanied a group of children who brought forward the bread and wine.

Dreaming and dragons 

After the closing procession, Italian actor Roberto Benigni took the stage for a lively and inspirational monologue that combined good humor and life lessons. 

While Benigni is known especially to the English-speaking world for his role in the Oscar-winning film “Life Is Beautiful,” in Italy he’s also known for his commentaries on important issues combined with his exuberant humor.

“When I was a boy, I wanted to be pope,” he told the audience.

Urging the children to read — “Kids need to read everything!” — he paraphrased G.K. Chesterton, who insisted that fairy tales are important: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed,” Chesterton said.

“Dream!” Benigni urged the children. “It’s the most beautiful thing in the world. But I want to tell you a secret. You’ll tell me you know how to dream; you’ll say you just have to close your eyes, sleep, and dream. … No, no. I’ll tell you a secret — to dream, you don’t have to close your eyes. You have to open them! You have to open your eyes, read, write, invent.”

The actor emphasized the need to be peacemakers, saying that the Sermon on the Mount contains “the only good idea” that’s ever been expressed. War is the “most stupid sin,” he lamented.

“War must end,” Benigni insisted, going on to quote a famous author of children’s literature. “You will tell me: That is a dream, it is a fairy tale. Yes, it is, but as Gianni Rodari said, ‘Fairy tales can become reality, they can become true!’”