VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI consoled a 7-year-old Japanese girl, reassured a mother about her ailing son's soul and advised a Muslim woman that dialogue was the way to peace in Ivory Coast.
AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Passion of Christ Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday. Later Friday the pontiff is expected at the ancient Colosseum in Rome for the traditional Way of the Cross procession.
The pontiff's words came during an unusual Good Friday question and answer session on Italian state TV — part of a new Vatican push to engage with the world online and through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
It was hardly a casual or spontaneous chat: Seven questions were selected from thousands that poured in via RAI television's website, and Benedict recorded his answers last week.
He seemed a bit stiff, sitting all alone in a big white chair behind his desk inside the Apostolic Palace as an unseen interviewer read out the letters to him.
But the teacher and pastor in the 84-year-old Benedict came through as he fielded the questions, which all dealt with suffering and Jesus' death, which Christians recall on Good Friday, and his resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday.
The first question came from young Elena, who asked the pope why she felt so afraid after Japan's earthquake shook her house and killed so many children.
"Why do children have to be so sad?" the girl asked. "I'm asking the pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me."
Speaking simply as if Elena were right there, Benedict responded that he too wondered why so many innocent people suffer, but that she should take heart in knowing that Jesus had suffered too.
"You can be sure that in the world, in the universe, there are many people who are with you, thinking of you, doing what they can for you to help you," Benedict said.
"Be assured, we are with you, with all the Japanese children who are suffering."
He then turned to a question from an Italian mother, Maria Teresa, who worried about her son, Francesco, who has been in a vegetative state since Easter 2009. She asked if Francesco's soul still remained.
"He feels the presence of love," Benedict told her, praising her for keeping her vigil as a "true act of love."
"I encourage you, therefore, to carry on, to know that you are giving a great service to humanity with this sign of faith, with this sign of respect for life, with this love for a wounded body and a suffering soul," he said.
Monsignor Paul Tighe, the No. 2 in the Vatican's social communications office, said the decision to have the pope engage in the televised event stemmed from the realization that Benedict must engage more with the public to ensure his message is received.
"This is a very simple beginning of what you could call interactivity," Tighe said in a recent interview. "It's launching something new for us."
n the past, Benedict has taken preselected questions from carefully chosen Catholics, responding live in St. Peter's Square, such as when he meets annually with university students. He also regularly answers questions submitted beforehand by journalists when flying to foreign countries and has fielded questions from groups of priests.
But the Good Friday session was the first time he had taken questions from the general public — and not necessarily even the Catholic public.
"The advantage of this is it opens up the possibility to people who couldn't hope or aspire to having a direct meeting with the pope, but through the Internet can put their questions there," Tighe said.