Habemus papam! As we all scramble to find resources to teach about the newly elected Pope Francis, I offer this initial Pope Francis lesson plan to help your students understand the significance of his first few moments as the Holy Father. I was personally very moved by the the events that unfolded at the conclusion of the papal conclave on March 13, 2013 and never more so than the moment the Holy Father asked us to pray for him before extending the Urbi et Orbi blessing. He truly has the heart of a teacher inspired by the sacred heart of Christ, the Master-Teacher.
Pope Francis Lesson Objectives
- SWBAT compare and contrast the initial appearance of Pope Francis and past popes including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.
- SWBAT make predictions about what Pope Francis will do for the Church during his papacy.
Pope Francis Lesson Plan
So much has been made of the unexpected introduction of Pope Francis I. We had heard about the beautiful vestments which the newly elected pope could choose to wear while in the Room of Tears. Instead, our simple pope appeared wearing only his white cassock. The banner, which was hung before Pope’s first appearance displayed not an elaborate coat of arms, but a plain, white canvas. Even the gestures that our new pope made were in such stark contrast to past popes that this social media meme has been going viral:
In this Pope Francis lesson plan, students will compare and contrast this appearance and blessing with past popes. Please be clear with students that the goal is not to compare the popes, but to make predictions about what they think this pope will do during his papacy based solely on this first impression. Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were incredibly humble men and to compare each pope’s humility based on this appearance is just pointless. Nevertheless, so much was said in this first impression.
1. Assess Prior Knowledge
Lead the students in a discussion about the events of the day that Pope Francis was elected. What do they know about him? What was their experience of the election?
2. Comparing the Habemus Papam and Urbi et Orbi
Create, distribute, or have students draw a Venn Diagram to compare Pope Francis’s initial appearance on the balcony before St. Peter’s square with past popes including Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, John XXIII, and even earlier.
First, have students watch a video of Pope Francis’s first appearance noting everything from clothing to his words.
Next, show or have the students watch YouTube recordings of each first appearance of the popes that preceded Francis. What is different? What is the same?
The Election of Pope Benedict XVI:
The Election of Pope John Paul II:
Assessment: Have them record the differences and similarities in their Venn Diagrams.
Tip: To help students notice the important contrasts, suggest the following topics to consider:
- Papal vestments
- Papal coat of arms
- Hand gestures
- How the pope appealed to the people of Rome in his speech, his new diocese.
- How the pope appealed to the rest of the world.
- How the pope addressed his predecessor.
- How the pope referred to himself.
You may provide images and videos to certain groups of students (i.e. Group 1: Francis + Benedict; Group 2: Francis + John Paul II; Group 3: Francis + John Paul I, Group 4: Francis + Paul VI, etc.). This might provide some differing insights from each group that will be beneficial in the discussion that follows.
3. Discussing the Similarities and Differences
Have students share what they noticed with other members of the class. They can either get into groups for a discussion or lead the entire class in a discussion together. If you divided the groups by certain popes (Francis + Benedict XVI / Francis + John Paul II / etc.), then try to arrange the groups in a jigsaw discussion.
You may consider writing some of the contrasts on the board. With each contrast, always ask the students “why?” Why do you think Pope Francis said that or said it in that way? Why do you think Pope Francis chose to wear what he did? Why do you think he greeted the crowds in the way that he did?
4. Papal Prediction Assessment
Now ask students to make a prediction about the papacy of Francis. What do they think his papacy will be like based solely on this first appearance? Have them write a paragraph prediction. When they finish, they can either share their responses as a group or with the entire class.