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Winnipeg boy meets Pope Francis

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — Pope Francis is a jolly and generous fellow, says one who has met him, and in the eyes of that Grade 3 student the Vatican looks “big” and “old.”

Ryan Khandelwal from St. Ignatius School in Winnipeg had quite a week in February: flying to Rome, meeting the pope and telling millions all about it during his appearance on Good Morning America. It was all thanks to a question he had for Pope Francis: “What did God do before the world was made?”

It started as a project organized by U.S.-based Loyola Press that asked Jesuits around the world to collect questions from children for the pope, accompanied by drawings, that would serve as the basis for a book. Thirty entries were chosen for the book from among 256 children in 26 countries, and one of those was Ryan’s.

The questions and drawings chosen, and the pope’s responses, have now been published in Dear Pope Francis, released March 1.

Ryan and his 20 classmates at St. Ignatius Jesuit Parish School were encouraged by their teacher, Kelly Sine, to put on their thinking caps and put pens and crayons to paper.

“They came up with some great questions, really insightful,” said Sine.

That was last May and by August the school was informed that Ryan’s letter had been selected from hundreds of letters to be published in the book. In December the school received even more exciting news: Ryan would be going to Rome to meet Pope Francis personally.

During their five-day stay in Rome, the children visited the Roman Coliseum and the former residence of St. Ignatius. “We spent every day with the other kids; we did everything together; we were like a family,” said Ryan, who took his dad along on the trip.

Each of the kids presented the pope with a gift and Ryan wanted his to be uniquely Canadian, so he presented Francis with a bottle of maple syrup. Ryan also brought gifts from his school, including a St. Ignatius T-shirt and key chain, and a book about the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.

In the Good Morning America coverage, which can be seen on YouTube, the pope is visibly delighted with the syrup. “This is good,” says the pontiff.

From the pope Ryan received a medal with an image of St. John Paul II on one side and Pope Francis on the other.

As to the pope’s response to Ryan’s question, “What did God do before the world was made?” Francis replies that God simply loved.

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