Amid the mourning, a chance to learn

Catholic schools set aside their regular lessons to answer students' queries

A World In Mourning

The Death Of Pope John Paul Ii

April 05, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

There were many questions in Kathy Bowen's fifth-period theology class at Seton Keough High School yesterday, the first day back after the death of Pope John Paul II.

How much money does the pope make? Will he become a saint? Was he a Republican or a Democrat?

Bowen, a religion teacher and campus minister at the Catholic girls school in Southwest Baltimore, patiently answered each question but quickly seized the teaching opportunity presented by the first papal succession in the lifetimes of the children.

"Yes, we're grieving in the sense that we have lost Pope John Paul II, yet there is so much excitement for you in terms of what you are witnessing at this time," the teacher said.

Brigida Calhoun, 15, of Owings Mills commented on the tall hat the pope is wearing while lying in state.

Bowen explained that popes wear miters, like bishops, because popes serve as bishops of Rome. She also explained the shepherd's crook, or crosier, that was placed in his arms. Bishops carry such crooks to signify that they are the shepherds of the church.

She detailed the process by which the conclave of cardinals selects a new pope. And she reminded the students that the first pope was the apostle Peter, one of her favorite saints, whom the class had studied in its examination of the Gospels.

The girls also were curious about Pope John Paul's relationship with Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981, and about the motives of anyone who would want to do such a thing.

"Why did [the pope] go see the guy who tried to kill him?" Brigida said.

"He believed we needed to forgive," Bowen answered.

Like Bowen, many Catholic educators around the Baltimore region put aside their regularly scheduled curricula yesterday to answer student queries.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has about 36,000 students in the city and in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Washington counties.

"Anything they might have learned of church history is kind of being lived right in front of their eyes," said Sister Mary Fitzgerald, president of the Institute of Notre Dame in East Baltimore.

The life story of the pope, born Karol Wojtyla in Poland, provides a good lesson for children, said Mary Jo Hutson, associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese.

Many schools began planning memorial prayer services or other activities to honor Pope John Paul's memory yesterday, students' first day back after the Easter holiday. Archdiocesean school officials also announced yesterday that classes will be canceled Friday, the day of the pontiff's funeral.

"This is taking life's moment and really allowing our children to be part of that and to grow from that," Hutson said.

At St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore, students in Sister Rita Michelle Proctor and teacher Andrew Blake's classes answered trivia-style questions about the pope's death and the papacy during a joint religion class yesterday.

"How many days of mourning are there for Pope John Paul?" Blake asked the students after they had watched a television news report on the pope.

"Nine," the freshmen and seniors called out in unison.

Blake later opened the floor for a more serious discussion about what country the next pope might come from.

After class, Brigida said she hopes the new pope will work on behalf of social justice issues such as hunger and homelessness.

Amanda Bereznay, 15, of Woodlawn said she would like the next pope to "follow through with John Paul II's agenda."

"He showed a great deal of leadership," she said. "He was involved a lot. He wasn't just a stuck-up leader."

Amanda said she also hopes that women can become more involved as leaders in the church, an issue on which the pope maintained a conservative stance.

Sun staff writer Laura Loh contributed to this article.

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