An article on the Aleteia website recounts the encounter between Pope Francis and a little boy named Emanuele. The Holy Father was visiting St. Paul of the Cross parish ner Rome last Sunday and, before celebrating Mass, took the opportunity to meet the parishioners and to take questions from some of the children.
A young boy named Emanuele approached the microphone, but was quickly overcome by tears. “I can’t do it,” he told the Monsignor who stood beside him and who embraced the boy to comfort him. Pope Francis beckoned Emanuele to come to him and whisper his question in his ear. After a few moments, when their heads were so close they were touching, Pope Francis asked Emanuele for permission to share his question. After praising the child for having the courage to share his heart in public by his tears, he said that Emanuele asked him, “A short time ago, my dad died. He was an atheist, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is Dad in heaven?”
Pope Francis’ first reaction was to say, “What a beautiful thing, that a son says of his father, ‘He was good.'”
Truly! How many children today grow up without a father, not because, like in Emanuele’s case, their fathers die, but because their fathers are absent from their homes because of divorce or abandonment. It really is a beautiful thing that a boy can say of his father, “He was good.”
Pope Francis told Emanuele that, of course, “God is the One Who decides who goes to heaven.” Not only is this true, but it is cause for hope for all of us. I have often said that, if any man were my judge, I would be damned to hell in a heartbeat. My only hope is that Jesus is my judge! God is a Father, and God the Father looks after His children, just as Emanuele’s father looked after him and, though he lacked the gift of faith, made sure that Emanuele and his siblings were baptized.
Who knows why Emanuele’s father lacked faith? Did he outright reject God? Was the poor example of those who claimed Christ at the core of his lack of faith? Who knows what is in the heart of any other person? Who knows but that God can make Himself known to a good man in the brief, nano-seconds between life and a last breath. This is why, while the Church proclaims with confidence when God reveals that a particular person is in heaven, the Church never declares that any particular individual is in hell.
God is the One Who decides who goes to heaven. Thank God for that! Because it is God’s decision, there is hope for us all.
Ven. Fulton Sheen once said, “There will be many surprises in heaven, and the greatest surprise is that you and I will be there!”
Let us pray for God’s mercy on Emanuele’s dad, and on us all, and pray for the comfort of Emanuele and his family.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.