Schoolchildren in New York Were Ready to Meet Pope Francis

Students’ Dioramas of Recycled Materials Reflect Papal Mission

EAST HARLEM, N.Y. — When the children of Our Lady, Queen of Angels School in East Harlem heard the news that Pope Francis was going to visit their school during his trip to the United States, they were ecstatic, to say the least.

“I was jumping up and down, I was so excited,” said Ngueubou Kamwa, one of the fourth-graders selected to meet the Holy Father. “It’s amazing! I was running around in my house,” said fellow fourth-grader Nicholas Maronaro, who couldn’t contain himself, repeating, “This is amazing!”

“I feel very excited to meet the Pope,” added third-grader Pedro Hernandez.

A week before Pope Francis was to visit the school — he visited the afternoon of Sept. 25 — the youngsters were working diligently on the projects to be presented to the Holy Father. In the same room where they met Francis, they were sitting at yellow- and blue-topped round tables, occupied with putting the finishing touches on their dioramas. A large image of Our Lady as the Immaculate Conception watched over them at the end of the classroom from a shrine-like setting. Above her was a crucifix. Everything in the pristine room sparkled.

Behind the youngsters, the bulletin board was lined with the neat compositions, all detailing how the students could put the Pope’s words into practice in their lives and with their families. Their particular theme was spelled out in words across the top of the board, written on individual white clouds: “Laudato Si — Care for Our Earth.” Principal Joanne Walsh described how the third- and fourth-graders’ dioramas were tied to the message of  the Holy Father’s encyclical. “It was all generated by the children, with their ideas,” she said.

Each boy and girl described how he or she came up with ideas using recycled products, which made the dioramas themselves a lesson in conservation. “I’m basically using things people would throw away,” Nicholas said, as he described his detailed diorama of a home. He used an empty box of staples for the base of a living-room couch, with white bottle caps serving as legs, and a shirt neither he nor his sister could wear anymore became the seat cushion. A soup container became the bathtub, and cardboard and discarded aluminum foil made a showerhead.

How did he hope Francis would react to his work? “I’d like the Pope to say he’s very happy about what I did, because it took a lot of work.”

Third-grader Allison Reyes is coming up with a plan to help the school’s lunchroom waste less food, using her kitchen diorama as a model. In her display, a juice bottle was turned into a long counter, complete with stove and sink. “Pope Francis is going to say he loves it because I’m using stuff for it we usually throw away, and I can reuse it so God’s animals can live,” she happily explained.

Pedro meticulously created his school’s classroom in diorama form. “In the classroom, we open the windows so we don’t have to use the air conditioner,” he pointed out, swinging out a cardboard window on his display. He also added standing plants: “I was learning in class about plants and how they clean the air. They turn carbon dioxide into air safe to breathe.” Pedro made the classroom’s desks from pieces of cereal boxes, with matchsticks for desk legs. The large white cross central on his classroom wall was designed in miniature from a foam plate. He hoped Pope Francis “likes it a lot, too.”

Principal Walsh explained that the education the children receive at the school is rooted in Catholic values. “The blessing of Pope Francis coming here is an affirmation of the importance of Catholic schools and Catholic education,” she observed. “We’re delighted we have this unique opportunity to let the world know what we are doing here.”

Joseph Pronechen reported this story from Harlem.

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