Mohammed’s question for the Pope was simple but profound: “Will the world be again as it was in the past?”
Which past he’s referring to is hard to know. Syrian Mohammed Al Najjar was only 10 when he wrote those words in a 2015 letter to the pontiff.
His missive is one of 30 that appears in Dear Pope Francis (Loyola), a collection of letters and drawings from children around the world. It is the only letter from a Muslim.
Mohammed and his family had been displaced by civil war from Eastern Ghouta to Damascus. The boy was attending a school established by the Jesuit Refugee Service, when he was asked if he wanted to participate in the book project.
Mohammed did not know who Pope Francis was, so Tony Homsy SJ, then director of the Damascus JRS program, explained. Mohammed quickly equated Pope Francis with “a great Shiekh or Imam of Christians,” Homsy recalls. After some hesitation, he penned his question, along with a drawing of a boy playing with a purple ball on a sunny day, surrounded by trees and flowers.
Dear Pope Francis was published in February last year and became a bestseller.
Shortly after Mohammed wrote his letter, however, Homsy lost touch with the boy, who had been forced to move with his family to another part of the city. Amid the news of bombings and worse, Homsy wondered, was Mohammed safe?
Combing through records, Homsy and a messenger were able to track down Mohammed and discovered the boy is flourishing despite living in trying conditions.
Mohammed is now in eighth grade. He attends a free Islamic boarding school in Damascus. His family members — his parents, three younger siblings, grandparents and two aunts — are living in a small house several miles away.
Looking through a new Arabic edition of the book, Mohammed again saw the words he had written — and the response from Pope Francis:
“There are those who manufacture weapons so that people fight each other and wage war. There are people who have hate in their hearts ... This is suffering. But, you know, this suffering is destined to end. It is not forever. Suffering is to be lived with hope. We are not prisoners of suffering. It is just as you have expressed in your drawing: with the sun, the flowers, the trees, and your smile as you fly in the air playing ball.”
Asked what question he would pose to Pope Francis now, Mohammed responded: “Do you feel our suffering in Syria?”
What happened to the Syrian boy in the pope’s children’s book? (Washington Post)