Pope Benedict began his US visit today. Some of my fifth graders knew this. They described the Pope as "like a priest" and "a very religious man."
But other than that they had no concept of who he was, where he lives, and what his role is.
Mark knew he was "a Catholic." Mary said he lived in "England or something." But John knew he lived in Rome, although he didn't know that was in Italy. No one mentioned the Vatican City.
And then there were other confusions. Sue had told a friend that she was a Christian, and the friend replied, "Then you can't be a Catholic." Sue was not sure about this; no one was.
"Could you be both a Christian and a Catholic?" someone asked.
I put the word Christian on the board, underlined the word Christ in it. They understood that believers in Jesus as Lord call themselves Christians no matter what the denomination of their church.
But there is Sally who is Jewish and daily keeps me informed of upcoming holidays and the mitzvahs she is doing, what the Torah says, and other things she learns in Hebrew school.
Sally said she didn't believe in Jesus. Shocked Christian faces turned her way. She was one lone dissenter in a class of twenty-four.
"You don't?" one said.
Sally is a tough cookie. "No, I don't," she answered without hesitation, although she looked to me for approval.
"But Jesus was Jewish!" said another, confused at how she couldn't "believe" in someone who clearly existed.
We talked for a bit-- about Jesus' claims to be God, about some who believed and became his disciples, and others who thought his words were blasphemy. And how the Christian church sprang from these Jewish roots.
"Should we banish Sally?" I asked with a twinkle in my eye, knowing Sally would understand and not take offense at my use of a vocabulary word that applied to the period in history that we were studying.
No one wanted to banish her.
Wise Meg said, "We all just believe what our parents teach us anyway."
And then we talked about how maybe it was the same God we all believed in, but with different names. The Muslim's Allah, the Christian's God, Jehovah.
Sally struggled to come up with the name she used. The conversation continued while she scowled in frustration.
"Adonai!" she interrupted triumphantly, a big grin on her face.
Later these children will learn of all the blood shed in God's name. In all His names.
I won't have the answers for their questions. Or, maybe I will, but they won't make sense.
There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. ~George Bernard Shaw